Prevent to Protect: The Most Common Unheard of Viral Cause of Birth Defect

June 28, 2018

It’s National Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Awareness Month, however, most women have never heard of CMV (less than 9 percent).

CMV can pose an occupational risk to pregnant childcare providers due to the increased likelihood of contact with bodily fluids, saliva and urine during diaper changes, while working with young children. Pregnant women are most likely to get CMV from young children as it is a very common childhood virus, affecting up to 70 percent of healthy children between 1 and 3 years of age (National CMV Foundation). Otherwise healthy children may present with typical viral illness symptoms or none at all, while shedding CMV.

Healthy children who acquire CMV from their peers will not experience the same long-term outcomes as those infected during pregnancy; for instance, they will not become deaf or disabled from their exposure to CMV. However, a pregnant caregiver can acquire CMV from these children and pass the virus to her unborn child if she does not have antibodies already built up in her system. Approximately 1-4 percent of uninfected women have a primary (or first) CMV infection during a pregnancy, and about 40 percent of women who become infected with CMV for the first time during pregnancy pass the virus to their babies. A primary CMV infection while pregnant can have significant effects on the development of the fetus. If a woman has previously been exposed and developed antibodies to CMV and gets a secondary infection while pregnant the potential to transmit the virus to her fetus drops dramatically potentially as low as 1 percent or less. About one out of every 200 babies is born with congenital CMV infection.

Steps Toward Prevention

Regular hand washing is one of the best ways to remove germs and prevent the spread of germs to others. Child care providers should ensure they are utilizing standard hygiene practices at all times when interacting with young children. These hygiene practices include proper and effective handwashing after changing diapers, wiping a nose or drool, feeding, or handling toys of young children.

Parker’s Story

Parker was born in March 2013 when my daughter was 2 ½ years old, potty training, and attending child care full time while my husband and I were at work. I had a routine prenatal care and an Obstetrician knew of my toddler’s child care setting. However, I was never educated about CMV while pregnant or the risk of having a young child in child care could have on my unborn son.

As you may recall, last summer I shared Parker’s story, my son who was diagnosed with congenital CMV after spending 9 days in the NICU after birth.

CMV is an automatic qualifier for Early Intervention Services and he began receiving physical therapy at 2 months old. Parker has Cerebral Palsy and experienced delayed developmental milestones, including an inability to hold his head up, roll over, crawl, and walk on target with milestones.

He is now a happy five-year-old boy who loves Toy Story, Cat in the Hat, school, reading books, singing, and dancing.

If you are pregnant and work or have children in a child care setting make sure to speak with your provider. Together, you can work on determining your risk of a primary CMV infection and ways to minimize your exposure to CMV.

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Topics: Workforce, Family & Community Engagement, Family Stories, Parenting

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