CMV: Virus that puts unborn babies at risk

Pregnant women who kiss their babies or come into contact with their bodily fluids can put their unborn babies at risk for a common but devastating virus.

An expectant mother who kisses her baby can put her unborn baby at risk for a common virus that can lead to disability or death.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common viral infection that usually goes unnoticed or causes only mild symptoms in most people.

However, unborn babies who contract the virus in utero may be born with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities that include hearing loss, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy.

Although CMV is the most infectious cause of disability in infants and 20 times more common than listeria or toxoplasmosis, only one in six pregnant women has heard of it.

The virus is spread through contact with body fluids such as urine, saliva and nasal mucus.

Pregnant women are advised to avoid sharing drinks and cutlery with young children, avoid contact with saliva when kissing a baby, and wash their hands for at least 15 seconds after changing diapers, blowing their noses or handling children’s toys and pacifiers.

After 34-year-old Pam Rogers contracted CMV in utero, she was advised to terminate the pregnancy after doctors said her son’s brain had not formed properly and he would die after birth.

Christopher, now 8, has defied all odds and lives with multiple disabilities and delays.

“He’s not mobile, non-verbal, and fully fed with a tube, but he has the best smile and the ability to make your day beautiful again… It’s amazing,” said the Canberra-based mother-of-four.

Ms. Rogers believed that some felt that talking to expectant mothers about CMV would cause mass hysteria, but said it was a mother’s right to be properly educated and choose what to do with the information.

“Don’t tell me what I can and what I can’t know. Don’t censor things … It should be about empowering women. We need to give pregnant women more credit.

“It’s frustrating that (CMV) isn’t widely spoken and people aren’t educated when it affects people so broadly.”

Perth mother Stephanie Greally’s twins Archer and Louis tested positive for the virus after being born 34 weeks after an emergency cesarean section in August 2021.

While Archer remains asymptomatic, Louis suffers from hearing loss, calcifications and enlarged ventricles.

Ms. Greally, 37, said she had never heard of CMV prior to her children’s diagnosis.

“If I had known it was out there and how it was passed on, I would have been more diligent in kissing my baby during pregnancy,” she said.

“I had no idea that my baby’s normal love, care and kissing put my unborn babies at risk.”

There are no vaccinations against CMV, but Moderna is working to develop one.

Ahead of June’s CMV Awareness Month, CMVictory’s clinical trial is targeting women ages 16 to 40 globally to participate in a 30-month trial.

UNSW’s CMVictory principal researcher Raina MacIntyre said the goal was to make a vaccine with antibodies that could kill the virus and thus prevent unborn babies from suffering from congenital anomalies.

“Rubella was a major cause of congenital blindness and other deformities, but there is a successful vaccination program against it, so congenital rubella is hardly seen anymore,” he said.

“We haven’t had an effective vaccine (CMV) yet. If there is one, which is what we are trying to find out through this study, it will have a huge impact on congenital anomalies due to an infection in children. “

Women of childbearing age who are not pregnant and have regular contact with young children, such as a parent or teacher, can participate.

Both Ms Rogers and Ms Greally said that if a vaccine against CMV was available, they would have it.

“I wouldn’t change Christopher and his world trip, but I don’t want others to go through what we have been through,” said Ms. Rogers.

To learn more or to participate, go to CMVittoria website.

Originally published as How to kiss babies during pregnancy can cause life-changing health effects

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