Cytomegalovirus and newborn deafness

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Newborn Deafness and Hearing Loss

The dangers of congenital CMV during pregnancy

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common, non-genetic cause for hearing loss or deafness in newborn babies. If the virus that infects the mother during pregnancy is passed on to the child, he/she will be born with congenital (present at birth) CMV infection. Yet, some 91% of women do not know about CMV. 

In the U.S. it is estimated that 1 in 200 newborns have congenital CMV, the effects of which can range from no symptoms or problems to the development of long-term health issues, such as hearing loss. 

That said, many babies with congenital CMV might not show any hearing loss symptoms at birth. They may even pass their newborn hearing tests. Herein lies a problem because unsuspecting parents may not notice – or even dismiss – hearing issues as the child becomes older. 

And so, even without obvious hearing loss at birth, all parents should observe their children for signs that could indicate oncoming hearing challenges. For instance, the baby does not react to sound and noise or does not respond to voice if he/she does not have face-to-face contact with the speaker etc. 

CMV infection is common

According to the CDC, “over 50% of adults are infected with CMV by the age of 40, and approximately one in three children are infected with CMV by the age of five in the United States.”  In those with healthy immune systems, CMV is not considered a threat. The mild flu-like symptoms that the virus may cause do not raise any particular alarm.

Pregnancy: Precautions & Prevention 

Although some companies are actively working on a vaccine, there is so far no CMV vaccine available. And so, forewarned is forearmed when it comes to keeping CMV at bay, especially while pregnant.  

· Talk to your doctor about risks and precautions. Although it is not routinely done, should you be tested to learn about your own CMV status?    

· The virus is passed along through direct contact with body fluids, such as saliva, blood, mucous, urine, tears, breast milk and sexual contact. Beware of those with cold or flu-like symptoms at any age. It could be CMV. 

· Be careful with high-risk populations such as babies and small children who are considered ready CMV reservoirs. Extra precautions are needed in and around Day Care centers, when wiping kids’ noses, or when changing diapers. Infected children may not have any symptoms but they can potentially infect expecting moms. 

· Wash hands frequently. Do not share food or eating utensils with children. 

· After birth, keep observing the child for signs of developmental and hearing issues as he/she ages.  

· Looking ahead: Support any State legislation efforts for the introduction of Early Newborn CMV testing. That’s the only way to know for sure if the child has congenital CMV. What a difference that would make. I just emailed my State elected officials to support such action in the State of Minnesota. 

Early detection and intervention

If hearing or deafness is present at birth, it becomes important for the family to know what the cause might be. Could CMV be the issue or might there be a genetic component? CMV can be detected in the child’s urine or saliva. 

The earlier hearing problems of any cause are diagnosed, the faster resources and help can be provided for the child and the family, such as medication for CMV treatment, hearing technology help, speech-language training, ASL classes etc.

And so, CMV is a common but possibly nasty virus that can threaten newborn health and wellness is many ways.  While awaiting a CMV vaccine and Newborn CMV testing, awareness, information, good hygiene and prevention will keep both moms and babies protected. 

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