Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is the most common cause of birth defects in the United States, and the most common non-genetic cause of congenital hearing loss. Yet frequently we find the mothers of newborn babies diagnosed with hearing loss were completely unaware of it as a concern during their pregnancy. CMV is a prevalent virus that is transmitted easily through bodily fluids. Infections with it frequently go unnoticed because it rarely causes issues for healthy people. It is estimated that over half of adults over age 40 have been infected with CMV at some point in their lives.
Young children infected with CMV carry high levels of the virus in their urine and saliva. Since caring for a young child typically involves frequent encounters with slobber and diapers, pregnant women should exercise caution, even when interacting with their own children. When a pregnant woman contracts CMV, the virus can be transmitted to her developing baby. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) emphasizes that the risk of transmission is higher for women experiencing their first CMV infection during pregnancy but can occur even with subsequent exposures. When a mother passes the virus to her baby during pregnancy, it is referred to as congenital cytomegalovirus (cCMV). The most common consequence of cCMV is hearing loss which may be present at birth or develop gradually during the first months and years of life. Therefore, babies who do not pass their newborn hearing screening should be evaluated for cCMV immediately, preferably before leaving the hospital as a newborn. In addition to hearing loss, cCMV can cause neurological issues, vision problems, low birth weight, and liver and lung problems.
Here are some proactive steps you can take during pregnancy to minimize the risk of CMV infection:
- Resist slobbery kisses: Refrain from giving kisses to young children around their mouth. Express your affection with a kiss on the forehead and warm snuggle instead.
- Wash your hands regularly: Develop a habit of regular handwashing, especially after activities like changing diapers, handling pacifiers, teethers, toys or tissues.
- Use Personal Utensils and Glassware: Avoid sharing drinking glasses or utensils with young children to reduce the chances of transmission.
The potential impact of CMV during pregnancy can be substantial. It’s our goal to educate expectant mothers about the simple changes they can make to protect themselves and their developing baby. If you or someone you know is currently pregnant, join Dallas Ear Institute’s Don’t Kiss Your Kids Campaign by sharing this information with them.
To learn more about Cytomegalovirus (CMV) visit the Centers for Disease Control.
If you have concerns about your child’s hearing, contact Dallas Ear Institute to schedule an evaluation.