Cytomegalovirus: Protect Your Baby
CMV is the most common congenital (present at birth) infection in the U.S. Each year about 5,500 (1 in 750) children in this country are born with or develop permanent problems that can result in disabilities from congenital CMV infection.
If you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the best way to protect your unborn baby from CMV is to protect yourself.
What is CMV?
CMV stands for cytomegalovirus (sī-to-MEG-a-lo-vī-rus). It is a virus that commonly infects people of all ages. Once CMV is in a person's body, it stays there for life. Most of the time people with CMV are not contagious because the virus "hides" inside their body and is not shed in bodily fluids such as urine or saliva. Most people with CMV infection have no symptoms of disease. However, CMV can cause disease in unborn babies when passed from the mother.
What is congenital CMV infection?
When a mother passes CMV to the baby during pregnancy, the baby is known to have congenital CMV infection. Mothers who become infected with CMV for the first time while pregnant have as much as a 1 in 3 chance of passing it to their unborn babies. If a woman is infected with CMV before she becomes pregnant, the risk of passing the virus to her unborn baby is reduced to about 1 in 100. Overall, about 1 in 150 children is born with congenital CMV infection. This means that each year in the United States about 30,000 children are born with congenital CMV infection.
How can a baby be harmed by congenital CMV infection?
Most children (9 in 10) with congenital CMV infection have no symptoms at birth. Some children (1 in 10) will have symptoms at the time of birth, such as:
- Small body size
- Problems with the liver, spleen, and/or lungs
- Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
- Purple-colored skin patches
In rare cases, congenital CMV causes death. About 1 in 5 infected children with or without symptoms at birth develop permanent health problems in their first few years, such as:
- Hearing loss
- Vision loss
- Intellectual disability
- Lack of coordination
How is CMV spread to pregnant women?
- The most common way pregnant women become infected is by getting bodily fluids such as urine or saliva of a young child in her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Young children are more likely to shed CMV in their bodily fluids than are adults. Once infected, the child may shed the virus through the preschool years. Young children are also more likely to spread their bodily fluids into the environment through drooling, mouthing toys, and wetting their diapers.
- Pregnant women can also become infected through sexual contact with an adult who is shedding CMV.
Pregnant or Planning a Pregnancy?
Avoiding contact with urine and saliva – especially from young children – might reduce your chance of getting CMV and passing it along to your unborn baby. Here are a few simple steps you can take to avoid getting urine and saliva in your eyes, nose, or mouth:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after:
- Changing diapers, feeding a child, wiping a child's nose or drool, handling children's toys, or touching saliva or nasal secretions (snot)
- If water is not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Do not share food, drinks or eating utensils with young children
- Do not put a child's pacifier in your mouth
- Clean toys, counter tops, and other surfaces that come into contact with children's urine or saliva with common household cleansers
Is there a test for CMV?
Yes, blood tests can be done to see if a woman has CMV. However, these tests are not routinely done because they are not good at predicting whether a baby will be infected with CMV or have health problems. Newborns who show symptoms consistent with congenital CMV after birth can be tested in the first 2-3 weeks of life using blood, urine, or saliva.
Learn more about testing and diagnosis of CMV.
A small number of studies have evaluated the use of medicine to treat newborns with severe congenital CMV disease. These medicines might prevent hearing loss and improve developmental outcomes in these babies. However, because of possible serious side effects, these medicines should only be considered for newborns with severe congenital CMV disease. If your child has congenital CMV, talk with your health care provider about the best course of action.
Vaccines for preventing CMV infection are still in the research and development stage.
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- Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Congenital CMV Infection
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- CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
- Ten Tips to Prevent Infections During Pregnancy [PODCAST - 4:00 minutes]
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