Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is one of the most common risks to unborn babies that no one knows about. It is very common, and in healthy children and adults has few if any visible symptoms. It is rampant in daycares and primary schools, where most children catch it for the first time. Most people are infected by the time they reach adulthood, and once infected, carry immunity toward subsequent infections. For this reason, it is usually not mentioned at all when a women becomes pregnant.
Unfortunately, I was not immune.
About 1% of babies born in the US have CMV; 10% of these show symptoms at birth, while the others carry silent infections. In the silent infections, the largest risk is developing hearing loss in the first year or two of life. Those who show symptoms have a much worse prognosis ranging from hearing loss to developmental delays to major disabilities. A few die. The most common symptoms that show at birth are premature delivery, being small for gestational age, jaundice, enlarged liver and spleen, microcephaly (small head), seizures, rash, and feeding difficulties. Of these, Daniel did not have jaudice, microcephaly, or seizures. Once infected, it can take years for the full impact of the congenital virus to show themselves, so close monitoring of the child’s development is key.
What’s important to know is that, if you are pregnant, you need to be extra cautious and aware of sanitation around children. Wash your hands immediately and well after changing diapers. Do not share food and drink with anyone. If you can, be tested for immunity: that way, you’ll know how aware you need to be. This is especially important if you have other children. I wish I had known when I got pregnant with Daniel! Call your doctor and ask for testing for CMV if you have a prolonged fever, unusual or extreme tiredness, and aches.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for CMV, nor is there a cure. The treatment Daniel underwent is extremely new and quite rare, as there are risks to it that lead doctors to pass on it in many cases. Daniel’s was extreme enough that they saw benefit to going that way.
To learn more, click here. If you know anyone who was born with congential CMV, I would love to hear from you – stories and cases are rare.