June is Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Awareness Month. CMV is common virus that, in healthy people, can cause mild illness or no symptoms at all. While most are unaware they’ve been infected, by age 40, more than half of all adults in the United States have been infected with CMV. This virus, that typically produces mild or no symptoms, increases the risk of certain birth defects for unborn babies when a woman is exposed during pregnancy. When CMV is passed from mom to baby during pregnancy, it is called congenital CMV infection. Congenital infection may occur when a pregnant woman experiences a first-time CMV infection, reinfection with a different CMV strain, or when a previous CMV infection reactivates.
Since 91 percent of women are unaware of CMV, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is promoting awareness of this public health concern. About one in every 200 babies is born with a congenital CMV infection but only one in 10 babies with CMV infection at birth will have noticeable signs of infection including small head size, jaundice, or an enlarged liver or spleen. Approximately one in five babies with congenital CMV infection will have long-term health problems such as hearing or vision loss, intellectual disability, small head size, seizures, or lack of coordination. Many babies born with congenital CMV infection won’t have symptoms at birth but are still at risk of developing hearing loss later in life.
Cara Gluck is an OSDH regional director for Beckham, Greer, Harmon, Jackson and Tillman counties, and the mother of a child diagnosed with CMV. She said awareness is key to prevention, and that a woman should be informed of risks to her unborn child to include information on CMV.
“My provider knew I was considered in a higher risk category because I had a young child in a daycare setting and because she was potty-training while I was pregnant, but never discussed this risk with me,” said Gluck. “Had I only known, my husband and I could have made some behavioral changes relating to care for our, then 2-year-old, daughter. He could have been the one to care for her when she was sick, instead of me.”
She said awareness comes through education and knowing your risk, and encourages any woman of childbearing years or is pregnant to ask her provider to do the basic blood screening to determine if she has antibodies. If she does, she is at a lower risk for spreading the virus to her unborn child.
“I hope in the future, women are educated and screening is done,” Gluck said.
Since CMV is common in young children, women around young children are at a higher risk for exposure to CMV. CMV can be passed from children to pregnant women through urine or saliva during diaper changes, sharing of eating utensils, or exchanging saliva when kissing.
Women can reduce their risk by wash washing their hands after contact with bodily fluids and avoid saliva exchange. While routine testing of pregnant women for CMV infection is not currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women can ask their doctor for a simple blood test to find out about their CMV status.