Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is the least known but most common viral cause of permanent disabilities in newborns. Although most CMV infections are harmless, CMV can cause disease in unborn babies and in those with weakened immune systems. Despite this, less than 50% of obstetricians counsel their patients about the dangers of CMV, and 80% of women are unaware of CMV.
CMV is spread from one person to another, usually by close and prolonged contact with body fluids, including urine and saliva. CMV is very prevalent among healthy children 1 to 3 years of age who attend childcare. Pregnant mothers of toddlers who attend childcare and those who work closely with these children, are at the greatest risk for infection. According to the CDC, nearly 1 out of every 150 babies (roughly 30,000 children annually) is born with a congenital CMV infection. About 1 out of every 750 babies (more than 5,000 children annually) suffers permanent disability as a result.
“CMV is the most common virus most people have never heard of,” said Gail Demmler-Harrison, MD, infectious disease specialist and CMV researcher at Texas Children’s Hospital, who is also associated with Maddie's Mission, a local nonprofit group raising awareness and funding for CMV research. “Most of the time, when a baby is diagnosed with CMV, mothers haven’t heard of it, but it’s a virus that every woman needs to know about.”