As mothers, we do our best to provide our babies with healthy, nutritious foods, prenatal care, and protection to ensure the healthiest pregnancy and baby possible. I could bet that it’s surprising to learn that a major risk factor for birth defects could live within your other children? Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is what is called aherpes virus and is closely related to the chicken pox virus, herpes simplex, and mononucleosis which spread via direct or prolonged contact with bodily fluids (blood, breast milk, urine, genital secretions, saliva, mucus, etc.). It is said to be very rare contracting this virus from casual contact. Most commonly found in babies and children younger ages, it occurs in up to 70% of children, primarily being of daycare age. Once the virus is contracted, it remains in your body for the rest of your life, though it is not always in an active state.
For the most part, this virus lies in dormancy in the cells of a healthy person who has contracted it. The only way the virus can be transmitted to someone else is the virus becomes stimulated and is no longer dormant (think of this dormant period like hibernation).Cytomegalovirus for the most part, does not cause symptoms in those with a normal immune system, so the likelihood of knowing that your child (ren) are infected is unfortunately slim to none.
Now posing the biggest contradiction with this infection is contracting the virus while pregnant. Most commonly this infection is passed from the mother to the baby via the placenta, resulting in approximately 40,000 babies born with CMV each year. Symptoms of CMV can take months or even years to develop. Fortunately, most of these babies are never affected by the virus. However, according to Doctor Stuart Adler of the Virginia Commonwealth University, an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 infants and children are affected by CMV each year. So what does this all mean statistically? It means that birth defects have a well-known strong association with the effects caused from CMV, and is almost as common as Down syndrome, and twice as common as neural tube defects.
Approximately 10 to 15 percent of infants exposed to CMV while in the womb and of normal weight at birth go on to develop complications later in life. According to Dr. Adler, the most common issue is hearing loss, which can range from mild to complete loss of hearing. Other problems include vision loss, coordination problems and mental retardation. Babies that show symptoms at birth may end up exhibiting jaundice, hepatitis, hearing loss, rash, low birth rate, enlarged spleen, pneumonia and epilepsy.
There are some very simple ways to reduce the risk of contracting CMV is following these basic sanitary practices. Frequently washing your hands after every diaper change, wiping drool, spit-up, etc., Washing with soap and warm water for at least 15-20 seconds is recommended for proper cleansing. Also, avoiding contact with tears and saliva, it’s important to use caution while wiping your children's face or when giving, your child a kiss (this is extremely important if you are pregnant). These recommended crucial steps will greatly reduce the risk of contracting CMV.
Although CMV does not usually cause symptoms, those that do occur are similar to those of mononucleosis, including fever, swollen glands and fatigue. If you have these symptoms while pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider about being tested for CMV. A simple blood test is all that it takes to detect CMV antibodies in the blood. If you test positive for the virus, there are medication that can be prescribed to boost the immune system and can decrease the risk of transmitting the infection to your developing baby.
If you have had the CMV infection for some time, amniocentesis can be used to determine whether your baby was exposed to CMV. This test carries a very small risk of infection and miscarriage. In some case, ultrasound is another method that can also be used to determine if the CMV infection is present. Red flags that present themselves to your provider are: a decrease in amniotic fluid, enlarged areas of the brain and slower than normal rate of growth. Treatment with antiviral medications can be provided for babies exposed to the virus in the womb as a prevention measure for implications in the future.
Have you about CMV prior to reading this post? What steps have you taken to help prevent CMV?