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This Virus Causes the Same Effects as Zika — and Is Way More Common

One in every 150 babies is born with cytomegalovirus, research shows. 

This Virus Causes the Same Effects as Zika — and Is Way More Common

Megan Giddens, a social worker from Orlando, FL, remembers how she felt when she was diagnosed with a little-known virus, called cytomegalovirus (C.M.V.). 

“Scared would probably be the best word to describe it,” Giddens said.

She was pregnant at the time, but says that her doctors downplayed the likelihood of her baby catching the virus.

If she’d known more, she might have been more worried: C.M.V. can have some of the same effects on newborns as Zika, but is much more widespread. Now, moms who are dealing with those effects every day are pushing for additional screenings for the virus in expectant mothers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in every 150 babies is born with C.M.V., and can cause a variety of long-term health problems. These include hearing loss, vision loss, intellectual disability, small head size, lack of coordination, weakness and problems using muscles and seizures. Additionally, kids could die from C.M.V. complications.

Most kids born with the virus show no symptoms at first, but since the Giddens knew that there was a chance that Megan had passed C.M.V. to her daughter, Brianna, she had the baby girl tested right away.

Brianna tested positive.

“It was really a lot of unanswered questions,” Giddens said. “Will my child walk? Talk? How will she be developmentally-wise? The first year is the most anxiety provoking.”

While Brianna, now 3 years old, has only mild symptoms so far, her future health remains unknown. Giddens has partnered with the National C.M.V. Foundation to raise awareness about the virus to help other parents. If a family doesn’t know their baby is born with C.M.V., they will miss a crucial window in which the child could receive antiviral treatments that could help reduce the effects.

“Parents who are learning their kids have C.M.V. at 5, 6, 7 years old don’t have access to those treatments,” Giddens explained.

The Florida family is also raising awareness about prevention efforts. People with C.M.V. pass the virus through bodily fluids like urine, saliva, blood, tears, semen and breast milk. A pregnant mom of a toddler can get it from an older child, and then pass it on to the baby in the womb. 

“If I had known about it, I probably would have waited to potty train Tyler,” Giddens said. Her son was a toddler when she was pregnant with Brianna.

Giddens hopes her work will help prevent future cases of C.M.V. It might take some time, but she hopes that eventually C.M.V. screening will be as common as the amniocentesis test for Down syndrome. 

What Parents Can Do 

  • Women can be tested for C.M.V. before they start trying to get pregnant. If you have an active infection, talk to your doctor about your pregnancy plan.
  • Expectant mothers can be tested for C.M.V. while pregnant and discuss medical treatments with their physician. 
  • Parents should wash their hands often with soap and hot water, especially after changing a child’s diaper. 
  • Don’t share food with your toddler or give kisses on the mouth while pregnant. 
  • Educate caregivers and day care workers about C.M.V., as well as the ways to reduce its spread.