Dangerous Pregnancy Complication Most Mothers Don't Know About
CMV--It's a virus found in 90 percent of Americans, but if you first get it while pregnant it can have devastating effects on the baby.
Original Article Posted Oct. 29, 2010
ANCHORAGE-Every afternoon, Karen Gillis walks to the school bus stop at the end of her South Anchorage driveway to greet her daughter.
Fifteen-year-old Bailey can't walk, talk or hear, and is fed through a tube.
"I got pregnant with Bailey at the beginning of 1994," Gillis said. Bailey was 10 days overdue, but doctors told Gillis routine tests didn't show anything unusual.
"So when she came out at five pounds, one ounce, we were all taken aback," Gillis said. "She needed oxygen right away and was quite underweight, so she was put into the neonatal ICU (intensive care unit), and about 10 days after she was born we sat down with the neonatologist and he told us it was cytomegalovirus."
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is one of eight human herpes viruses, which include chicken pox and cold sores. Nine in 10 people in the U.S. have CMV but, unless they've got weak or underdeveloped immune systems, they won't show symptoms. At most, those infected may feel like they've got a cold. For fetuses, however, the virus can have devastating effects.
<p>"In the US, by 80 years of age, something like 90 percent of people are infected with CMV," said Dr. Brad Gessner, who works with the state's maternal and child health epidemiology unit. "I would say most of those people have no idea they're infected. In my unit, we look at birth defects, and so while we don't look at what's called congenital CMV infections specifically because it's outside of the reportable codes, we do look at some of the consequences."
If a woman contracts CMV for the first time while pregnant, like Gillis did, the baby pays.
"Is probably the most common cause of newborn hearing loss," said Gessner. "So even though 90 percent of people are infected by the time they're 80 it's still a fairly substantial public health issue."
Every year in the U.S., about 5,000 babies are born infected with CMV. In Alaska, less than one percent of children are born with CMV.
"There's going to be 10 to 20 a year of children who have some effect of CMV that's lifelong," Gessner said of Alaska rates. "So that's not insignificant. It's up in the league with fetal alcohol syndrome in terms of total cases per year."
CMV in infants can cause seizures, loss of vision or hearing, problems with the liver or spleen and, in extreme cases like Bailey's, cerebral palsy.
"So it's probably second only to down syndrome as a cause of congenital mental retardation," Gessner said.
CBS 11 asked on its Facebook page how many women knew about CMV and, judging from the responses, most moms knew nothing about the virus until either they or someone they knew contracted it while pregnant.