Via The New York Times: CMV Is a Greater Threat to Infants Than Zika, but Far Less Often Discussed. Excerpt:
Laura Sweet had no idea that she had contracted a virus that would leave her daughter, Jane, deaf by her first birthday.
During her second pregnancy, doctors had warned her against alcohol and changing kitty litter. They had said to avoid sushi and cold cuts. But nobody — not her obstetrician, nor her midwife — mentioned cytomegalovirus.
Only after a frustrating search lasting months did doctors discover that the girl had been infected in utero. The infection and the emotional ordeal that followed, she thinks, could have been prevented — for the Sweet family and thousands of others every year.
“It’s tough to play the what-if game,” said Ms. Sweet, 37, a consultant for an education nonprofit in Cumberland, Me. “You can drive yourself crazy with that.”
The world has been galvanized by the Zika epidemic spreading through the Americas, which has left more than 2,000 infants with severe brain damage. But for pregnant women and their infants in the United States, cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is the far greater viral threat.
Every year, 20,000 to 40,000 infants are born with CMV. At least 20 percent — up to 8,000 — have or develop permanent disabilities, such as hearing loss, microcephaly, intellectual deficits and vision abnormalities. There is no vaccine or standard treatment.
But there are now hints that some newborns may benefit from antiviral drugs, a finding that has reinvigorated the debate over whether they should be routinely screened for the infection.
CMV is the most common congenital viral infection and the leading nongenetic cause of deafness in children. Roughly 400 children die from it annually. By contrast, roughly 900 pregnant women in the continental United States have contracted the Zika virus.
“Everyone and their brother knows about Zika, but it’s very rare in the U.S.,” said Dr. Mark R. Schleiss, the director of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
CMV should be every bit as urgent a priority as Zika, he argues. Health officials called for a vaccine decades ago, and there still isn’t one, partly because of a lack of public awareness about CMV, Dr. Schleiss said.
CMV is a hardy member of the herpes family, and it is transmitted by contact with saliva and urine — often from diaper-wearing children to adults. Pregnant women often get it from toddlers, especially those in day care who share drool-drenched toys.
“Toddlers are hot zones for CMV,” said Dr. Gail Demmler-Harrison, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. It is difficult for mothers to protect themselves from a virus carried by the children they care for.
Nearly one in three children is infected by age 5, and more than half of adults by 40. CMV takes up permanent residence in the body and can cause illness again after being dormant. Like the Zika virus, it causes mild flulike symptoms, or none — but can be devastating to a fetus.