Developmental delays. Loss of motor function. Feeding tubes. I wondered if the infectious disease specialist noticed my jaw dropping more and more as he spoke. Thank God he wasn’t naming the prognosis for my son, who was born with congenital hearing loss caused by CMV. He was, however, describing the life of many other kiddos affected by this virus. I felt incredibly lucky and sick to my stomach all at once. When I was pregnant with Little Man, I remember doctors discussing Spina Bifida, Down Syndrome, and Group B Strep. Little did I know that a virus I had never heard of would cause his hearing loss. Even more shocking–it’s THE most common viral infection among infants (1 in 200 infants are born with CMV each year). The most startling thing about CMV, however, is that it’s very very preventable.
What is CMV?
The last thing I want is to give mamas one more thing to worry about, but this information would have been extremely helpful for me when I was pregnant. This is everything I wish I had known about CMV.
I wish I had known that CMV stands for Cytomegalovirus. That most of the general population comes in contact with CMV, gets cold-like symptoms for a few weeks, and is totally fine afterwards. I wish I had known that CMV can cross the placenta and affect an unborn baby. And even though most babies don’t present with concerning symptoms, CMV can cause developmental delays, microcephaly, cerebral palsy, and seizures along with other permanent, debilitating disabilities. In fact one child is permanently disabled by congenital CMV every hour.
Congenital CMV is the number one cause of non-genetic, sensorineural hearing loss and those kiddos usually experience further hearing deterioration. My son included. He started out with hearing aids on both ears, but it didn’t take long for the hearing loss in his right ear to reach the profound level and get zero benefit from his hearing aid. About one year later, the same thing happened in his left ear. Thanks, CMV. Don’t get me wrong. My boy is perfect and I’m a huge fan of his cochlear implants (read about that here and here). But if I had known, I would’ve worked harder to prevent CMV altogether.
How Do You Get CMV?
I wish I had known that CMV is transmitted through prolonged contact with bodily fluids such as saliva and urine. I wish I had known that CMV is common among healthy children between the ages of one and three. So common that by age five, one in three have already been infected. Maybe with no signs or symptoms. Since we live in a time where “pandemic” is part of our daily vocabulary, I doubt I need to elaborate further as to why this is concerning. Particularly for pregnant mamas that already have one or more young children at home and/or at work.
How Can You Prevent CMV?
The measures we have taken to prevent COVID-19 will not work here. There’s no sheltering-in-place from your own toddler. You know what you can do? Drink out of your own cup instead of your toddler’s. Be sure to wash and sanitize your hands after every diaper change. Capitalize on forehead kisses with littles instead of the sweet but slobbery open-mouthed ones they often give.
I haven’t spent much time feeling guilty about my son’s congenital CMV and the hearing loss it caused. It was pure ignorance (though in this case not the blissful kind). If anything, I have felt angry that no one told me about it. And by “tell me about it” I don’t mean stick a needle of a pamphlet in the haystack of paperwork you take home from your first OB appointment. I mean sit down and directly explain what CMV is and how to prevent it. Better yet, maybe even recommend a blood test for it (more info here).
Which brings us here now. I’m telling you so that you can make informed choices. Below are guidelines for CMV prevention from the National CMV Foundation. Again, there’s nothing crazy-difficult about this list. However, I truly believe that raised awareness and implementation of these practices will make a difference. Here’s to healthy moms and to healthy babies!
The National CMV Foundation gives the following tips for CMV prevention:
- Do not share cups, straws, food, or utensils with young children.
- Thoroughly wash your hands after changing diapers, wiping noses, feeding a young child, and handling children’s toys.
- Forehead kisses only for children under the age of six.
- Do not put a child’s pacifier in your mouth (to clean it or just to hold it when your hands are full).
- Do not share a toothbrush with your child.