Via Nature News & Comment, an article by Declan Butler: Zika raises profile of more common birth-defect virus. Excerpt:
A virus is killing hundreds of babies in the United States each year, and leaving thousands with debilitating birth defects, including abnormally small heads and brains. This is not the Zika virus. It is a common and much less exotic one: cytomegalovirus (CMV).
Now, as the eyes of the media and health officials focus on the spread of Zika in the Americas and beyond, many researchers and advocates hope that funders and health agencies will at last pay more attention to a much greater global problem — the millions of babies born year in, year out, with often-serious birth defects.
“Birth defects are not high on the public-health agenda,” says Stanley Plotkin, a retired scientist who in the 1970s developed the current vaccine against rubella (German measles). A 1960s rubella pandemic caused tens of thousands of birth defects in the United States alone.
“Zika is an opportunity,” he says — to raise the profile of birth defects among research funders and public-health agencies, and to accelerate efforts to develop a CMV vaccine.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, annually, more than a quarter of a million babies worldwide die shortly after birth from congenital anomalies, and many more are born with serious defects. The causes are many — some known, some not. A global focus on reducing child mortality has meant that severe disabilities in children are a lower public-health priority, says Anita Kar, a specialist in congenital abnormalities at the University of Pune in India.
CMV is a poster child for the problem — and with Zika so much in the news, scientists and advocacy groups are voicing frustration and trying to seize the moment. The US National CMV Foundation is running information campaigns comparing and contrasting Zika with CMV. It is lobbying politicians to build on the mandates enacted in several states for public-health authorities to produce outreach material, including billboards on sides of buses, and to do CMV tests for all infants with hearing difficulties.
“Zika has become a way to open up conversations about CMV,” says Janelle Greenlee, a co-founder of the CMV foundation, who lost one daughter to congenital CMV and has another, the daughter’s twin, with serious hearing loss and cerebral palsy.
See also this new editorial in Nature News & Comment on promoting research into birth defects.