31 Jan Preventing Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Infection During Pregnancy
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is the leading viral cause of intellectual disabilities and non-genetic hearing loss in newborns and is highly preventable.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is an infectious disease related to the viruses that cause herpes simplex, chicken pox, and mononucleosis (“Mono”). Once you have the virus, it stays in your body forever but may not be active. It can reactivate later in life such as during pregnancy.
CMV is very common. 1 in 3 kids will have CMV by the time they’re 5 years old. More than half of adults have CMV by the age of 40. A new or re-activated prior infection is more likely to spread to your baby during pregnancy.¹
What are the Symptoms of Cytomegalovirus?
- White part of eyes are yellow; yellow skin
- Abnormally small head
- Low birth weight
- Enlarged liver or spleen
- Vision problems
- Hearing loss
- Developmental and motor delays (intellectual disabilities)
- Miscarriage in severe cases.¹
Sometimes a newborn will pass an initial hearing test only to develop hearing loss later in childhood. Learn more about signs of hearing loss in babies and children.
How Does CMV Spread?
CMV spreads through body fluids such as: saliva, mucous, blood, urine, tears, breastmilk, semen and vaginal secretions. Babies can contract CMV through the placenta in pregnancy, during labor and birth, and through breastmilk.
Mothers can test for CMV through a blood test, but it’s not a routine test during pregnancy because there is no way to predict if CMV will affect the infant during pregnancy or in early years of life.
The best method of CMV prevention is reducing your risk of infection (getting the virus) and transmission (passing it to your baby).
If you work in a healthcare or daycare environment, take special care to protect yourself against diseases that spread through bodily fluids. Follow your workplace guidelines and use personal protective equipment like gloves, as needed.
How Can I Reduce My Risk of Infection and Transmission of CMV to My Baby?
Take care not to touch others’ bodily fluids and bring your hand to your nose, eyes or mouth. These are portals of entry to your body and how the virus gets into your body. Here are a few tips when interacting with children or adults:
- Don’t share food, drinks, cups, utensils, or straws.
- Don’t put baby pacifiers in your mouth.
- Wash your hands with soap and water after changing diapers or wiping runny noses.
- Avoid kissing cheeks (tears and mucous) or lips (saliva) and kiss foreheads instead.
- Wipe-down toys and surfaces with a non-toxic cleaner frequently
- Use a condom if having sex with someone with CMV.
If you have an active CMV infection, take precautions not to spread it to your baby, especially if she has an immune system that is not strong. Often this is the case with babies who are born premature or have low birth weight. If she is preterm or has low birth weight, she is more likely to get sick from a CMV infection. In this case, it is also not recommended to breastfeed, since the virus can be present in breastmilk. If the baby was born full term and is healthy, then it is okay to breastfeed. You’ll want to talk to your provider about feeding options if you have active CMV.
What is the Common Treatment for Cytomegalovirus?
When an infant is infected with CMV, the common course of medical treatment is antivirals. Antivirals have been shown to reduce the progression of hearing loss for children with CMV.¹
The earlier the diagnosis the more favorable the outcome will be for your baby. Critical language formation takes place in the first two years; development that impacts how your baby will grow and interact with the world around her. Interventions like speech therapy, hearing aids or implants, and learning sign language can ensure a child reaches her full potential.
If you are concerned about signs of CMV, reach out to your child’s healthcare provider as soon as possible.
1. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). April 28, 2020. Babies born with congenital cytomegalovirus. https://www.cdc.gov/cmv/congenital-infection.html
2. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2010. Cytomegalovirus infection in pregnancy: should all women be screened? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3046747/