Virus rare, dangerous risk for the unborn; Legislators spread awareness on CMV.

Author:Tanner, Lindsey
Position::News
 
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Byline: Lindsey Tanner

CHICAGO -- It's a common, usually harmless virus. But in a rare, unlucky set of circumstances, it can be devastating for infants whose mothers become infected during pregnancy.

Brain damage, deafness and other birth defects are among potential problems when women inadvertently transmit the virus in the womb. Because those complications are so rare, most people have never heard of CMV -- shorthand for cytomegalovirus.

Infectious disease specialists, parents of affected children and, now, some legislators, are trying to spread awareness about the virus.

Erica Steadman learned about CMV when her daughter Evelyn was born with a small head and probable brain damage last year. The baby is deaf and potentially faces developmental problems.

''It's pretty devastating to us. I did everything I was supposed to do when I was pregnant to make sure she was healthy and I didn't know about this one thing,'' said Steadman, who lives in Crete, Illinois, outside Chicago. ''We have to face the consequences of that.''

CMV is related to germs that cause genital herpes, cold sores, and chickenpox. It spreads by exposure to body fluids from an infected person. Infections are usually silent but can also cause sore throats and fatigue.

However, the virus can be serious for people with weakened immune systems, including HIV-infected patients and organ transplant recipients. It can also interfere with prenatal brain growth.

The chances of getting infected while pregnant are small, and the chances of passing along the virus in utero are even smaller. Of about 4 million annual U.S. births, about 30,000 babies -- less than 1 percent -- are born with a CMV infection. About 5,000 of those babies will have CMV-related permanent problems.

The first law in the nation mandating a CMV awareness campaign took effect last July in Utah. It requires urine or saliva tests in newborns who fail already required hearing tests. Studies suggest early treatment with anti-viral medicine may limit hearing loss and may benefit the child's development, too.

Lawmakers in Illinois and Connecticut introduced similar measures this year. These efforts signal ''a very exciting potential shift'' in thinking...

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