When it comes to pregnancy there is an overwhelming amount of information on the do’s and don’ts. People are constantly talking about what you should and shouldn’t eat what exercise you should do, even down to whether it is safe to get your hair or nails done.
Yet one topic that is often neglected is a very important one, and that is the effect of certain viruses in pregnancy, in particular cytomegalovirus (CMV).
Cytomegalovirus is common. People are generally exposed early in childhood and, similar to viruses like chicken pox, it stays latent in the body for life. In fact, it is estimated over half the Australian population have been exposed to and are carriers of CMV.
The difficulty with CMV is that the vast majority of people don’t show any symptoms when they are infected. In some however, it can cause flu like symptoms such as fever, sore throat, tiredness and swollen glands.
So why is it such a problem in pregnancy?
If a woman contracts CMV while pregnant, there is a risk that her baby will also become infected, which is known as congenital CMV.
Congenital CMV is one of the leading causes of preventable congenital disability in Australia.
While most babies born with congenital CMV will not have long term health issues, some can develop hearing loss, vision loss, microcephaly (small head size), cerebral palsy, developmental delay or intellectual disability.
The highest risk for a child to develop disability secondary to congenital CMV is when a woman is infected with CMV for the first time during pregnancy, especially if this infection occurs in the first half of the pregnancy.
So let’s look at what women need to be aware of in order to protect themselves and their baby in pregnancy.
The highest rates of CMV are in toddlers and adolescents. When it comes to risk in pregnancy, women at higher risk of contracting CMV are those with other children (especially in day care), or people who work with children such as teachers or nurses.
When it comes to protecting yourself from CMV, it is important to know that it is spread through contact with saliva or other body fluids of an infected person. It can be direct contact with the infected person, or indirect such as handling nappies, tissues or toys that have saliva on them and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccination (yet!) so they key is prevention. The best way to protect yourself is:
And remember, if in doubt, always talk to your health care provider about your risk and what you can do to protect yourself from CMV.