Life

Ask the Expert: What is CMV and how dangerous is it for children and unborn babies?

CMV (cytomegalovirus) is a common virus that is mostly harmless but it can pose serious risks to unborn babies if a pregnant woman catches it

Q: What is CMV and could it harm my unborn baby?

A: Caroline Star, chair of the CMV Action charity (cmvaction.org.uk), says: "CMV (cytomegalovirus) is a common virus that can infect people of all ages. Most healthy adults and children who become infected will have no symptoms and no long-term effects. However, it can pose serious risks to unborn babies if a pregnant woman catches it. In fact, congenital CMV (when a mother passes the virus to her unborn child) is one of the most common causes of birth defects in the UK.

"CMV is found in bodily fluids, including urine, saliva, blood, mucus and tears and is often passed on through very close contact with young children. Pregnant women who have young children or work with young children should be especially careful. Every day in the UK, two to three newborn babies will be born affected by CMV, equivalent to almost 1,000 babies every year.

"For around one in five babies born with congenital CMV, the effects will be devastating – leaving them with lifelong conditions such cerebral palsy and epilepsy. CMV can cause stillbirth, miscarriage, and physical and learning disabilities, and is the leading preventable cause of hearing loss in children.

"CMV affects more babies every year than Down's syndrome, toxoplasmosis or listeriosis, yet most people have never heard of it. While most GPs and midwives will advise pregnant women to avoid unpasteurised food or cat litter, few will talk about preventative measures to reduce the risk of catching CMV.

"Pregnant women can reduce their risks of catching CMV by following simple hygiene measures, and lower rates of infection have been reported in countries where risk reduction advice is routinely given to pregnant women during antenatal care.

"The measures are: Wash hands regularly with soap and water, especially after changing nappies or coming into contact with bodily fluids; avoid kissing babies, toddlers and small children directly on the mouth; avoid sharing cutlery, drinks or food with children, and don't put dummies in your mouth; wash any items that have been contaminated by bodily fluids with soap and water."

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