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Zika’s Prevalence Could Bring Awareness to Lesser-known CMV Virus

Wednesday, January 4, 2017
By Meredith Cohn I The Baltimore Sun

Many pregnant women may not have heard of cytomegalovirus, or CMV, a common and generally benign virus in adults that can lead to hearing loss and cognitive delays in their babies and even death. Thanks to the widespread attention given to the Zika virus, which can be similarly devastating to fetuses, word may be spreading.

It's still not, however, a given that OB-GYNs will bring it up.

CMV, which causes permanent damage in an estimated 5,000 babies a year, was never mentioned to Glen Burnie mother Alyson Topper, whose daughter Hailey was diagnosed with the virus soon after she was born 15 months ago. There is no vaccine or cure and little proof that catching the highly contagious bug can be easily prevented, but Topper wishes she'd known about it.

Dr. Brenna Hughes, an obstetrician and faculty member at the Duke University School of Medicine and a CMV expert, said, "It disappoints me to say it, but I understand why obstetricians and patients aren't routinely talking about CMV."

Hughes helped craft guidance offered by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for doctors that says there might not be upside to mentioning a frightening virus when there are few quality studies offering answers about prevention and treatment, though recent research shows extended use of an antiviral may provide some benefit in newborns with symptoms.

The advice, however, doesn't tell doctors not to discuss CMV, which just about everyone catches at some point though it rarely causes harm in healthy adults or children. Hughes said there might be value in warning pregnant women to wash their hands vigorously after changing diapers or wear gloves, for example, since CMV is passed through bodily fluids and infected toddlers don't always appear sick.

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