Despite its common nature among newborns, most women have never heard of CMV, and many obstetricians don’t know about the latest advances to manage it.
By Dr. Gail Demmler-Harrison, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is the most common virus most people have never heard of. About 1 out of every 100 to 150 newborns is born with CMV, making it the most widespread congenitally acquired virus. Common in both children and adults, between 50 to 80 percent of women of childbearing age have caught CMV and between 1 and 5 percent of pregnant women will catch CMV for the first time during their pregnancy.
Most CMV infections are “silent” and harmless, but in pregnant women CMV can be transmitted to the fetus, sometimes with devastating effects to the unborn baby. Therefore, it is important if you are pregnant, or know someone who is pregnant, to be “CMV Aware” and “CMV Cautious.”
Unfortunately, studies have shown most women of childbearing age, and surprisingly many obstetricians, are not aware of the most recent advances in management of CMV infection in pregnancy. Here’s some basic information I hope is helpful to your family.
While, most CMV infections in pregnant women are “silent” and cause no symptoms, when they do occur they most commonly are fever, sore throat, swollen lymph glands and extreme fatigue. Rarely, a rash, cough or diarrhea may occur. Unfortunately, the first time a pregnant woman is aware of CMV is often when she has a baby diagnosed with congenital CMV infection. Blood tests are needed to accurately diagnose a CMV infection during pregnancy.
Approximately 1 to 4 percent of all pregnant women will experience a primary CMV infection during their pregnancy. If you work in a child-care setting, the risk increases to approximately 10 percent. If you have a toddler at home who is actively infected with CMV and shedding CMV in their saliva or urine, the risk is even higher, approaching 50 percent in some studies.
Most babies born congenitally infected with CMV will appear normal at birth. However, approximately 10 percent of babies born infected as a result of their mother’s primary CMV infection during pregnancy will have symptoms in the womb or at birth. Newborns with symptomatic congenital CMV disease at birth may have a variety of signs and symptoms in many organ systems, and also may experience disabilities long term in hearing, vision, cognition and motor development. In some babies with severe congenital CMV disease, the infection is fatal. Therefore a maternal primary CMV infection may carry a significant risk to the unborn baby. Women who experience a recurrent CMV infection also may transmit CMV to their baby.
The good news is, CMV infection is potentially preventable.
CMV is present in saliva and urine, so:
- Do not share food or drink with your toddler — no more “one for mommy one for baby” mealtime games while you’re pregnant.
- Do not kiss your toddler on the lips or cheek, rather hug them and give them a loving kiss on the top of the head while you’re pregnant.
- Wash your hands carefully after changing diapers and wiping your toddler’s nose and face.
An ounce of CMV awareness and these three simple hygienic precautions while you’re pregnant are all it takes to save your unborn baby from a potentially devastating infection.