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Prevent Cytomegalovirus in Pregnancy

By Julie Zimmerman, MSN, RNC-OB, C-EFM

Prevent Cytomegalovirus in Pregnancy

This common virus can cause serious complications for your baby—learn how to protect yourself and your little one.

Are you among the 9 out of 10 women who have never heard about cytomegalovirus (CMV)? This common infection can cause devastating problems for your gestating baby.

CMV is a herpes virus; other herpes viruses include chickenpox, cold sores (herpes simplex virus 1), shingles, genital herpes (herpes simplex virus 2), and Epstein-Barr (mono).

More than half of all adults have been infected by CMV by age 40, the CDC estimates, and most don’t even know it because they don’t experience any symptoms. This stealthy virus, though, can be very dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, like pregnant women.

CMV affects as many as 1 in 150 births each year, making it the most common congenital viral infection in the US. More children will have disabilities due to CMV than those with fetal alcohol syndrome, Down syndrome, spina bifida, HIV/AIDS or congenital rubella, say experts at the National CMV Foundation.

Only 1 in 10 babies infected by CMV show symptoms at birth; CMV’s impact on a newborn’s health can be devastating: It can cause preterm birth, hearing loss, microcephaly (small brain), impaired development or death.

How does Cytomegalovirus spread?

CMV spreads through direct, prolonged contact with body fluids (saliva, urine, breastmilk). It can also be spread through sexual contact with an infected person. Having a toddler in your home also puts you at higher risk as CMV is very common among this age group—especially if they attend day care.

You can pass CMV to your baby if you experience a first-time infection while pregnant. However, women with CMV can still breastfeed infants born at full term, as healthy infants and children who contact CMV after birth have few if any symptoms or complications.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for CMV. However, antiviral medication may decrease the risk of health problems and hearing loss in newborns who show signs of infection at birth. Preventing CMV infection during pregnancy is your best defense.

Reduce Risk of Cytomegalovirus in Pregnancy

To reduce your risks of CMV in pregnancy:

  • Wash your hands immediately after
    • wiping a young child’s nose or drool
    • changing diapers
    • feeding a young child
    • handling children’s toys
  • Never put a pacifier in your mouth
  • Avoid contact with saliva when kissing a child (try “nose” kisses instead)
  • Don’t share food, utensils, drinks or straws
  • Don’t share a toothbrush

More children will have disabilities due to CMV than those with fetal alcohol syndrome, Down syndrome, spina bifida, HIV/AIDS or congenital rubella.

Julie Zimmerman, MSN, RNC-OB, C-EFM, is a labor and birth nurse at the BirthCare Center at Unitypoint St. Luke's in Cedar Rapids, IA.

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