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Congenital CMV: What Pregnant and New Moms Need to Know

Recently, one of our Burdett moms asked us to provide more information on the cytomegalovirus (CMV). While the emergence of the Zika virus captured headlines and became a global public health scare, CMV is another maternal infection, and it has gone widely under covered. CMV and congenital CMV infection have been around for a long time. If you are pregnant, or are planning on becoming pregnant, here are a few key facts you should know about CMV.

The CMV virus is very common. 

The CMV virus infects people of all ages – one in three children under age five and over half of adults by age 40, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A healthy immune system will keep the virus from causing illnesses, so many people do not realize they are infected. Those with a weakened immune system may experience more serious symptoms.

You can take action to protect yourself from CMV.

The National CMV Foundation says that as many as 75% of toddler-aged children have CMV in their urine or saliva. Therefore, pregnant woman who have younger children or work in a childcare setting may be at higher risk of transferring CMV to their unborn child.  This is because the virus can be transmitted through saliva and urine (think diaper-wearing children and toddler toys). Women should be diligent about handwashing after feeding, changing, or wiping a child’s nose or mouth.

Pregnant women can transfer the CMV virus to their baby.

The CMV virus is passed through body fluids. This means women can pass CMV to their babies during pregnancy through the placenta. It is the most common virus with which children are born with in the United States. Congenital CMV infection is what a baby is born with when it is infected by the CMV virus.

Women can be screened for the CMV virus before pregnancy.

Since the virus does not show up in many people, it is hard to tell if you are infected. If you are planning to conceive, a simple blood test can check for CMV antibodies – IgM and IgG. If a woman tests positive for one or both antibodies, ask your doctor if you should wait until the infection has been resolved before conceiving, as this lowers the risk for transmission.

Women can be screened for the CMV virus during pregnancy.

If you are already pregnant, antibody lab tests can be added to your routine labs. If you test positive for a recent CMV infection (positive for both antibodies) then talk to your doctor. Ultrasounds can check for any abnormalities that could be caused by congenital CMV. You can discuss the frequency of ultrasounds, and then next steps if an ultrasound does show any abnormalities.

Babies can be tested and treated for CMV infection at birth.

New babies can be tested for congenital CMV infection at birth by taking specimens of their saliva, urine or blood. Antivirals can be given to an infected baby to treat the infection at the discretion of a pediatrician. The CDC also encourages regular hearing checks for babies with congenital CMV.

Congenital CMV can cause long-term health problems for babies.  

Babies born with congenital CMV can be born symptomatic or asymptomatic. The National CMV foundation says 90% of babies born with CMV will be present as asymptomatic.  Some health problems may develop later on. Babies may be born premature; have liver, lung and spleen problems; have a small body or head size or experience seizures. Long-term effects may include hearing loss, vision loss, intellectual disability, small head size, lack of coordination, muscle weakness and seizures. It is important to note that each case is different. These are just things to look out for. Consult your child’s pediatrician if you are concerned with any issues.

Many babies who are exposed to CMV end up fine.

The CDC says that one out of every 200 babies are born with congenital CMV infection. Of those, only one in five will get sick from the virus or have long-term health problems. It is important to know about the CMV virus and take whatever precautions you can to have a healthy pregnancy.

For more information, please consult your provider about recommendations for you and your child.

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