HealthWatch: Pregnancy Danger: CMV


DURHAM, N.C. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — We hear a lot about the Zika virus and the danger it poses to pregnant moms and their babies. But few people are aware of a very common virus that can also cause serious birth defects, and doctors say there are ways to prevent it.
You would never know nearly two-year-old Covie Fay was born with a dangerous virus!
“I only saw her for about ten seconds and they rushed her into the intensive care nursery,” Covie’s Mother, Crystal Wade told Ivanhoe.
Covie had been infected with cytomegalovirus or CMV for short. 
Wade continued, “It’s terrifying, absolutely terrifying.”
Sallie Permar, MD, PhD, Professor of Pediatrics, Immunology, and Microbiology at Duke University explained, “CMV is transmitted by close contact with bodily secretions.”
Most people are asymptomatic, so mom may not even know she has the virus, posing a serious risk to her unborn baby.
“It can cause the same syndrome as Zika virus; the microcephaly, severe brain damage, hearing loss … in fact, it’s been estimated to be the cause of 25 percent of childhood hearing loss,” said Dr. Permar.
Pregnant women can pick up the virus simply by changing a diaper. 
Doctor Permar continued, “So toddlers like to share their saliva, and we change their diapers. And they, when infected, can shed the virus very easily in those fluids.” 
Researchers at Duke University wanted to know how they could better protect moms and their babies from CMV. Doctor Permar and her team have successfully tested a CMV vaccine in animals. There’s currently a simple way to test infants using a cotton swab to gather saliva.
Covie was tested and diagnosed at birth. She was given antivirals right away. Her mom believes that’s what saved her child.
“Now she’s running around, she’s climbing on anything and everything,” Wade said happily.
With hope that one day all babies will be tested for CMV.
Currently, more than a dozen states have enacted legislation mandating CMV testing for children who fail their hearing screening. The CMV vaccine is now moving on to human trials.
Contributors to this news report include: Janna Ross, Field Producer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer and Editor.
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BACKGROUND: Cytomegalovirus or CMV is a common virus that can infect people of all ages. Over half of adults by age 40 have been infected with CMV. Once it is in a person’s body, it stays there for life and can reactivate. Most people infected with CMV show no signs or symptoms, but it can cause serious health problems for people with weakened immune systems as well as babies infected with the virus before they are born. Women can pass CMV to their baby during pregnancy. The virus can cross through the placenta, and can happen when a pregnant woman experiences a first-time infection, a reinfection with a different strain, or a reactivation of a previous infection during pregnancy. 

SIGNS/SYMPTOMS: Most babies born with congenital CMV will not show signs of having any health problems. However, some may have health problems that are either not apparent at birth or develop later during infancy/childhood. It is not fully understood yet, but it is possible for CMV to cause pregnancy loss. Babies with congenital CMV who are sick at birth show significant signs and symptoms, including; low birth weight or even premature birth, jaundice or yellow skin and eyes, purple skin splotches, rashes, enlarged spleen and/or liver, pneumonia, even seizures. 

NEW RESEARCH: Researchers at Duke University are working on a CMV vaccine that could potentially protect mothers and their babies. It has been successfully tested in animal models. The goal is to eliminate the congenital transmission, in particular, including mother to child and transplants. The vaccine would, ideally, reduce CMV disease in both the congenital and transplant settings. It may not be a vaccine that completely eliminates the virus; however, it would allow the immune system to quickly respond to the virus and block in from crossing the placenta or prevent it from causing disease when a person becomes immune-suppressed after they have received an organ transplant. A possible CMV vaccine could reduce the amount of childhood hearing loss as a result of this disease by 25 percent.
(Source: Dr. Sallie Permar)

MORE INFORMATION: Doctor Permar says in the meantime, pregnant women can reduce their risk simply by washing their hands, especially after diaper changes, and avoid sharing drinking cups with their toddler. For more information on CMV, please visit: 


Sarah Avery 

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

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