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Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is the most common infectious cause of birth defects in the United States. It's typically harmless to the general population, so awareness of the virus is low, but acquiring CMV before or during pregnancy could have debilitating affects on fetal development and infant health.
CMV, a member of the herpes family, is a common virus to come into contact with. For those with healthy immune systems, its worst symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, such as fever, sore throat, fatigue, and swollen glands. As the virus can be asymptomatic, many people may have the virus and not be aware of it:
Despite this frequency, awareness of the virus is limited, as studies commonly show that only around 50 percent of people know what CMV is, and that 30 percent or less of people know that it can be transmitted congenitally.
Around 90 percent of infants with CMV appear healthy at birth, and most will not have visible symptoms or long-term issues. However, health problems or disabilities can appear two years or more after birth. These can include:
10 percent of babies will be visibly symptomatic at birth, and may be undersized or have jaundice, an enlarged liver or spleen, microcephaly, low blood cell counts or platelets, or a "blueberry muffin" rash called petechiae or purpira.
CMV is transmitted through bodily fluids:
Preventing the virus from being transferred to infants can be accomplished with proper testing of parents or anyone else coming into contact with the child, as well as the following practices:
Currently there is no standard protocol in the United States for screening newborns for CMV. Testing can be accomplished for a newborn using a saliva swab, and it's done if newborns show symptoms connected to CMV such as hearing loss. Currently there is growing consensus on the establishment of these protocols.
Treatment options are still emerging, but may include antiviral drugs for newborns with visible CMV; as well as continuing screening for symptoms like hearing loss, vision loss, and seizures; and interventions and ongoing therapies for cognitive or physical disabilities.