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Did You Know... January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month

Friday, January 27, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Bethany Walker, MA
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January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a virus that can infect people of all ages. When women are infected with CMV for the first time during pregnancy, it can cause birth defects such as microcephaly, intellectual disability, hearing loss, vision loss, muscle weakness or lack of coordination, seizures, and problems with some organs such as the lungs, liver, and spleen. Each year in the United States, about 1 out of 150 babies are born with congenital CMV infection, while about 1 in 5 of babies born with congenital CMV infection have birth defects due to CMV. CMV is more likely to cause birth defects when mothers pass the virus to the fetus during the early part of pregnancy. 

About one third of women who become infected with CMV for the first time during pregnancy pass the virus on to the fetus. In contrast, it is rare for women who were infected with CMV before pregnancy to pass the virus on to the fetus. This can happen when women become infected with a different strain of CMV during pregnancy, or when a previous infection is reactivated during pregnancy. While some people experience mild illness when they become infected with CMV (e.g., fever, sore throat), most people do not experience any illness. Therefore, a blood test can be completed before pregnancy to inform women if they have already had a CMV infection.

As CMV is a common, easily spread virus, it is important for pregnant women to understand how it is spread. CMV is spread by coming into contact with body fluids (e.g., saliva, tears, blood) of a person who is infected with CMV. It is especially common for people to become infected with CMV from contact with children ages 1 – 2 ½ years old in daycare settings. For women who get infected with CMV during pregnancy, there is currently no treatment to prevent the passage of CMV from the mother to the fetus. Pregnant women practicing good hygiene is the best way to prevent congenital CMV infection. Pregnant women should adhere to the following precautions to reduce their risk of getting CMV during pregnancy:

  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose after coming into contact with young children.
  • Wash hands with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds after coming into contact with saliva or diapers of young children.
  • Avoid kissing children under age 6 on the mouth or face. Kissing them on the head or giving them a hug is a safer alternative. 
  • Avoid sharing food, drinks, or eating utensils with young children. 
  • Use a latex condom during sex if your partner has CMV.

About the Author:
Bethany Walker, M.A., is a fifth year graduate student in Miami University’s Clinical Psychology program. She is also the Social Responsibility Chair for the Ohio Psychological Association of Graduate Students. 



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Babies born with CMV (Congenital CMV infection). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cmv/congenital-infection.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What women should know about Cytomegalovirus (CMV). Retrieved from http://www.nbdpn.org/docs/CMV_brochEng.pdf

March of Dimes. (2012). Cytomegalovirus and pregnancy. Retrieved from http://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/cytomegalovirus-and-pregnancy.aspx

National Birth Defects Prevention Network. (2016). National birth defects prevention month. Retrieved from http://www.nbdpn.org/national_birth_defects_prevent.php