CMV: What expectant parents need to know
Most people infected with CMV show no signs or symptoms. But the virus can cause serious health problems for babies infected before they are born. In fact CMV is the most common congenital viral infection and the leading nongenetic cause of deafness in children.
Every year as many as 40,000 infants in the U.S. are born with CMV. At least 20%—up to 8,000—develop permanent disabilities such as hearing loss, microcephaly, intellectual deficits and vision abnormalities.
Prevention and treatment
While there is currently no vaccine to protect against the virus, research is underway. It’s important to note that newborns found to be infected with CMV often benefit from antiviral drugs. But when it comes to preventing CMV, the key is education, as the Times article makes clear. It’s imperative that doctors discuss this viral threat with expectant parents so that they can take appropriate actions to minimize exposure during pregnancy.
Clinical experts weigh in
Dr. Shari Brasner, Obstetrician and Assistant Clinical Professor at Mount Sinai, shares this with CHC:
CMV is a difficult and complicated infection to understand. Most infections in adults are without major symptoms or present as a mild mononucleosis-like illness. The real concern is the ability to transmit the virus to a fetus through the pregnant mother.
Congenital infections can be symptomatic or asymptomatic. Symptomatic disease can be severe and life-threatening. Both asymptomatic and symptomatic newborns are at risk for long-term neurodevelopmental complications, particularly deafness.
There are no guidelines as to how to screen asymptomatic pregnant women, how often to screen them and what to do if they have a mild viral-like illness during their pregnancy. As the mother of two hearing-impaired children who is herself an obstetrician, I strongly agree that more research and education efforts are needed in this area.
Dr. Anita Stein-Meyers, Pediatric Audiologist and Assistant Director of CHC’s Shelley and Steven Einhorn Audiology Center, adds further perspective:
Infants and young children who have been diagnosed with symptomatic or asymptomatic CMV require the care of a pediatric audiologist, in addition to their comprehensive medical care.
As the virus poses high risk of hearing loss that can be present at birth, develop over time or sometimes fluctuate, early identification and intervention is critical.
Hearing loss will have impacts on communication development, and for children with additional medical or developmental risks, these impacts may be more significant.
Thank you to The New York Times for putting this serious health issue in the public eye.