CMV Awareness Month: Letter from the Editor

I’ll admit: Until recently, I’d never heard of cytomegalovirus, or CMV as it’s often referred to. It was never mentioned during prenatal appointments with my first child. And with my second child, who came to me through the generosity of surrogacy, I thought we went over every potential test and complication with the fertility specialist. But again, no one mentioned CMV.

In fact, according to the National CMV Foundation, 91 percent of women don’t know about CMV. CMV is a virus that can be passed from a pregnant person to their unborn child. And while CMV is typically harmless, it can be dangerous to an unborn child. CMV may lead to developmental issues for a fetus or, in some cases, pregnancy loss.

But there are several things a pregnant person can do to reduce their risk for CMV. And that’s why, this month, we’re joining the conversation to help spread awareness about CMV.

It’s possible you may have already had CMV at some point in your life without even knowing it. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over half of adults have already had CMV by the time they turn 40.

But, in people who have never had a CMV infection, it’s estimated that 1 to 4 percent of those people may develop CMV during pregnancy. And for those people, it may pose a serious risk to the fetus.

Congenital CMV, or CMV that a baby is exposed to in utero, can lead to:

  • low birth weight
  • vision loss
  • hearing loss
  • small head size
  • intellectual disabilities
  • seizures

CMV in pregnancy may also lead to pregnancy loss.

About 1 out of every 200 babies are born with congenital CMV.

Prevention and awareness remain the best defense against CMV in pregnancy. CMV spreads through contact with bodily fluids, such as saliva, urine, or mucus, from a person with an active CMV infection.

To reduce your risk for CMV, regularly wash your hands with soap, especially after changing diapers or before eating. Aim to wash your hands for 15 to 20 seconds. You should also avoid sharing eating utensils, drinking glasses, straws, or toothbrushes.

And while routine CMV screening is not currently recommended by the CDC, you can talk with your doctor about getting a screening test before becoming pregnant or during pregnancy.

It’s important to keep in mind that identifying an active infection does not mean the fetus will develop congenital CMV, and there are no known treatments to prevent the spread in utero. But knowing you have an active infection could help you and your doctor come up with a plan just in case.

Education remains one of the best strategies for reducing the risk of CMV during pregnancy. Here are some resources to help you learn more about CMV:

If you’re pregnant, talk with your doctor about CMV. They can help you understand your risks and ways to prevent CMV in pregnancy.

Megan Severs, Editorial Director, Clinical & Parenthood

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