Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What you need to know about congenital Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Did you know that when a pregnant woman kisses a young child on the cheek, she is risking mental retardation and hearing loss for her unborn child? That daycare workers are also putting their unborn children at risk? Most people don't, and when I was pregnant with my daughter Elizabeth, I didn't know either. Through my activities, I caught cytomegalovirus (CMV) and passed it along to her. She was born with a severely damaged brain. She died last year at the age of 16 during a seizure.

Potentially thousands of children a year could be spared life-threatening disabilities if pregnant women were simply warned to avoid the bodily fluids of young children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 750 babies are permanently disabled by congenital CMV. It is more common a cause of disabilities than Down syndrome and is the leading viral cause of mental retardation and hearing loss.

Dr. Schmid of the CDC wrote to me: "The overwhelming majority of cases are not evident at the time of birth...the development of symptoms, such as neurosensory hearing loss and mental retardation, may not manifest for a year or longer."

The CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid kissing young children on the mouth or cheek, sharing food, towels or utensils with them, and frequent hand-washing—especially after diaper changes. One mother wrote to me that had she been warned about congenital CMV, “I would have been insane about washing my hands, carrying around hand sanitizer 100 % of the time.”

For more information, see the brochure found on the CDC Web site The brochure is available in Spanish and English.

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