Cytomegalovirus is a viral infection affecting pregnant women, which may be passed on to their babies. While symptoms of the disease are ‘silent’ in most cases, it might cause certain long term effects like mental retardation and visual impairment in children and people with a weak immune system.
One of the most common viral infections to affect pregnant women, Cytomegalovirus or CMV is a congenital infection that may pass to the baby either during pregnancy or after birth. It is a member of the herpes family of viruses which can also be transmitted through blood transfusion, personal contact, and while organ transplantation.
It is, however, primarily a sexually transmitted disease. In the US, nearly 50-80% of women are affected by the virus. Due to the absence of any symptoms, the infected mother, unaware of the infection, may pass on the CMV to the fetus through the placenta. According to the estimates by the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 1% of the babies are born with the infection which is termed as congenital CMV.
Although most of the babies born with congenital CMV may show no symptoms at birth and even later on in life, 1 out of 10 infants may display symptoms like inflamed retina, jaundice, low birth weight, or rashes at birth. Long term effects of the virus may include hearing loss, mental retardation, and visual impairment.
Causes of CMV
The infection is usually spread by contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids like saliva, urine, feces, semen, blood, tears, vaginal secretions, and breast milk. During pregnancy, the infection is passed through the placenta or the baby may get infected by certain infectious secretions, such as blood during the process of birth or by the infected breast milk.
Women, working in day care centers or in other professions where they are exposed to toddlers with infection, are at an increased risk of contracting the infection.
Symptoms of CMV in Adults and Toddlers
Although CMV has no visible symptoms in an adult, certain flu-like symptoms such as swollen glands and tiredness might manifest themselves in certain cases.
The symptoms in infants may include:
- Microcephaly or a small head size
- Calcium deposits in the brain
- Enlarged liver and spleen
- Rashes at birth
- Small size
- Inflammation of the retina
Diagnosis and Treatment of CMV
The symptoms for CMV might be dormant, therefore testing for the infection has to be done to detect a CMV infection. Blood tests are done prior to conception, if a routine ultrasound shows something abnormal in the baby. If an infection is detected, then several tests need to be conducted to determine if it is a primary or a recurrent infection. Several other tests like urine tests, amniocentesis, test of the baby’s saliva, urine, or tissue post birth may also be conducted.
Once the infection is detected in a baby, it can be treated with ganciclovir or hyperimmune gamma globulin, an antibody therapy.
To avoid the disease, women who come in contact with young children need to take certain precautions. Maintaining good hygiene by washing hands after changing diapers or after coming in contact with other body fluids is recommended. Kissing toddlers on the mouth and cheek and sharing utensils with them is discouraged. Pregnant women should avoid working with children under 2 years of age in day care centers.
Once the infection is detected, a health care specialist should be consulted to discuss the treatment options. Each year, nearly 30,000 children are born with the CMV infection which may cause serious disabilities like the Down Syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and neural tube defects. It is important that women be aware of this disease and take suitable steps to eliminate the infection.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.