June is National Congenital Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Awareness Month. While the Zika virus receives a great deal of press coverage, very little is said about the CMV virus. In fact, experts state that CMV is a more significant threat than Zika. Thus, it deserves attention.
CMV infects people of all ages, regardless of social class or ethnicity. It is passed through bodily secretions, including urine, saliva, breast milk, and rarely, sexual contact. For most people, there are no symptoms, and for others, it can present fever, fatigue, swollen glands or sore throat. CMV is associated with hearing and visual loss or impairment; disability; liver, lung, and spleen problems; premature birth; and developmental delay.
CMV is very common — likely more common than most realize. Per the Center for Disease Control:
• One-third of U.S. children have CMV by the time they are 5 years old.
• More than half of our country’s population has the virus by age 40.
An interesting and unique aspect about the disease is that most of the time it goes undetected. Many people who have it don’t know they are infected.
Most with healthy immunity fight off the effects of the virus. But for those with decreased immunity (including the very old and the very young), it can be more difficult, and the chance of reactivation increases. Of particular concern, if a pregnant woman contracts CMV during pregnancy, is that it can be passed to her fetus. This risk is especially high if it’s her first CMV infection.
Pregnant moms can reduce their risk by washing hands often, especially after changing diapers. The CDC also recommends kissing young children on the head or on the cheek, rather than on the lips, to reduce the salivary risk.
A blood test can diagnose CMV in the bloodstream. An ultrasound can then follow the growth and development of the fetus. Once the baby is born, blood, saliva and urine tests can determine if the CMV virus is present in the infant. It is important to remember that not all babies are affected, and there is a chance that the virus will not even be passed to the fetus if the mom is actively infected.
So, what can you do today to protect yourself and those you love?
• Continue good hand hygiene and avoid the saliva of small children.
• Women, talk to your doctor or nurse-midwife about CMV and bring up any questions you have.
• Men, make sure the women in your life speak with their doctor or nurse-midwife about CMV.
We want to make the discussion about CMV more commonplace to increase awareness of this common disease and protect those who may be at risk. As experts say a large percentage of U.S. women do not know about CMV, we must do our part to help spread the word.
Dr. Effie Siomos and Dr. Ken Ostermann practice at Beaver Dam Women’s Health, Ltd.
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