We’ve all heard of the Zika virus: the mosquito-borne illness that has dominated the headlines in recent months. Pregnant women and hopeful mothers-to-be have been educated on the potentially dangerous effects a Zika infection can have on their unborn babies’ health, specifically microcephaly, a condition that causes unusually small heads and brains, and other brain-related birth defects.
Americans are becoming more informed – and with good reason – Zika is a growing public health threat. But today I want to talk about another virus affecting pregnant women in the United States. It hasn’t garnered national attention like Zika but ~40,000 children a year in the US are diagnosed with the most common, potentially preventable infection few people have ever heard of. It’s called congenital cytomegalovirus or CMV.
A member of the herpes virus, CMV transmitted through bodily fluids such as urine or saliva of infected young children, has relatively mild effects on healthy adults. In fact, similar to Zika, most don’t even know they’ve contracted the virus, which remains dormant in the body after infection. But for pregnant women who contract CMV for the first time, the results for the baby could be catastrophic.
Congenital CMV is the leading viral cause of birth defects in America. It accounts for as many as 400 deaths each year and long-term disabilities such as, hearing and vision loss, seizures, and cerebral palsy in one in five children born with the virus. And in roughly 10 percent of cases, babies born with CMV show symptoms of jaundice, low birth weight, and microcephaly – the birth defect linked to Zika.
We at HCA are committed to increasing public awareness of congenital CMV and providing preventative measures to positively impact the lives of pregnant women and their babies.
In order to prevent a CMV infection, it is critical that pregnant women:
- Practice good personal hygiene throughout pregnancy, especially hand washing after contact with diapers or oral and nasal secretions (particularly with a child who is in daycare);
- Do not share food, drinks, or oral utensils (e.g., silverware, toothbrush, pacifier) with young children;
- Disinfect toys, countertops, and other surfaces that come into contact with children’s urine or saliva.
While the world prepares for the spread of the Zika virus, and rightfully so, raising awareness of congenital CMV is as equally important. With the right education and public awareness efforts, we can help pregnant women avoid preventable complications, and ultimately, stop CMV together.