Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Wendy van Zuijlen, Postdoctoral Scientist, Virology Research Laboratory, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a virus transmitted from person to person via body fluids like urine or saliva. For people with a healthy immune system, CMV is likely to cause no more than a temporary fever or headache. But when a pregnant woman is infected, the results can be far more serious.

While a pregnant woman herself may not feel sick, the virus can cross the placenta to infect her unborn child and cause permanent disability, including hearing loss and intellectual disability.

In Australia, nearly 2,000 babies are born infected with CMV every year. About 380 of these are born with permanent disabilities, including deafness, blindness and intellectual disability.

In developed countries, about one in five babies born with CMV will have permanent disabilities. This makes CMV the leading infectious cause of disability in newborns in the developed world.

Researchers don’t know the exact mechanism by which CMV can infect the developing baby. But they suspect the virus in the pregnant women’s blood first infects the cells of the placenta, where it multiplies and then enters the baby’s circulation via the placenta’s blood vessels.

Researchers also do not fully understand how CMV then causes hearing loss or intellectual disability. But CMV is thought to directly infect and damage a part of the inner ear. CMV also seems to infect neural stem cells, which are the building blocks of the developing brain. This infection may stop these brain cells from dividing and multiplying, which could affect the size of the baby’s brain and how it matures. CMV infection in the placenta may also prevent the placenta from developing properly. This could reduce the oxygen and nutrients to the baby, which can lead to brain abnormalities.

Most pregnant women are not aware

Most pregnant women are unaware of CMV and the simple measures they can take to reduce the chance of contracting this virus.

Studies in Canada, the US, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Japan, and Singapore report 61-87% of pregnant women have not heard of the virus. We predict similar rates in Australian pregnant women, although studies to confirm this have not been done yet.

There are no CMV awareness campaigns to provide pregnant women with much needed information about how to protect their baby from CMV, except those run by community organisations, such as in the US, the UK and Australia.

This means, without knowing, many pregnant women are unintentionally putting their baby at risk of CMV infection.

Contrast this with the public awareness of other potentially serious infections in pregnancy, like listeriosis (with the advice to avoid soft cheeses, unpasteurised dairy, raw fish and raw meat) and toxoplasmosis (with the advice to avoid contact with cat faeces).

But in Australia, CMV is now more common than listeriosis and toxoplasmosis in pregnant women. For instance, between 2001 and 2014 there were between one and 14 confirmed listeria infections in pregnant women each year. And between 2000 and 2010 there were only two cases of congenital toxoplasmosis. These data make it clear that more public awareness needs to be raised about CMV infection during pregnancy.

CMV can be avoided

The lack of awareness about CMV among pregnant women may be about to change. Recently published recommendations from an international team of CMV experts now recommends all pregnant women be told about CMV and what they can do to reduce the risk of contracting it.

Pregnant women can, for instance, contract CMV via intimate contact with young children. This is because CMV can linger in children’s urine and saliva for months after they are infected, while rarely showing symptoms other than a runny nose.

Therefore, good hygiene measures can help avoid contracting CMV. These include:

  • not sharing food, drinks or utensils with young children

  • not putting a child’s dummy in your mouth

  • avoiding contact with saliva when kissing a child

  • thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water after changing nappies and after wiping a child’s nose or drool.

Other precautions pregnant women can take are avoiding sleeping with children and wearing gloves when changing nappies.

Can CMV be treated?

At the moment, there is not enough scientific evidence to recommend a therapy to prevent or treat CMV infection during pregnancy.

But scientists are conducting clinical trials to investigate the effectiveness of a CMV vaccine. The first results of these trials are expected between 2017 and 2019. Also, at least one large clinical study is currently on the way to investigate the effectiveness of existing antiviral therapeutics. And scientists are continuing to investigate novel CMV antiviral compounds in the laboratory.

In the meantime, taking the recommended hygiene measures is the best option to prevent CMV infection during pregnancy.

If you or someone you know is affected by congenital CMV, Congenital CMV Association Australia, the National CMV Foundation in the US and the UK’s CMV Action provide information and support.

Authors: Wendy van Zuijlen, Postdoctoral Scientist, Virology Research Laboratory, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW

Read more http://theconversation.com/explainer-whats-cytomegalovirus-and-why-do-pregnant-women-need-to-know-about-it-75219

Writers Wanted

Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been released. But will a prisoner swap with Australia encourage more hostage-taking by Iran?


Ancient Earth had a thick, toxic atmosphere like Venus – until it cooled off and became liveable


Not just hot air: turning Sydney's wastewater into green gas could be a climate boon


The Conversation


Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Business News

Nisbets’ Collab with The Lobby is Showing the Sexy Side of Hospitality Supply

Hospitality supply services might not immediately make you think ‘sexy’. But when a barkeep in a moodily lit bar holds up the perfectly formed juniper gin balloon or catches the light in the edg...

The Atticism - avatar The Atticism

Buy Instagram Followers And Likes Now

Do you like to buy followers on Instagram? Just give a simple Google search on the internet, and there will be an abounding of seeking outcomes full of businesses offering such services. But, th...

News Co - avatar News Co

Cybersecurity data means nothing to business leaders without context

Top business leaders are starting to realise the widespread impact a cyberattack can have on a business. Unfortunately, according to a study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Tenable, some...

Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable - avatar Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable

News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion