Cytomegalovirus and pregnancy

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is a common viral infection, especially among young children. Congenital CMV occurs when the infection is passed across the placenta from a pregnant woman to her developing baby. Pregnant women diagnosed with primary CMV infection should be referred for specialist follow-up1.

The incidence of primary CMV infection in pregnancy in Australia is estimated to be six per 1,000 pregnancies. Most primary CMV infections are asymptomatic and carry a 50 per cent risk of transmission to the fetus. In Australia CMV causes abnormalities (200 – 600 babies each year), such as deafness, mental disability, hepatitis, pneumonitis, and blindness2.

What are the symptoms?

Children and adults with healthy immune systems do not usually develop symptoms when infected, but may develop an illness similar to glandular fever with tiredness, sore throat, swollen glands and fever. People with a weakened immune system are more likely to develop symptoms.

How can congenital CMV be prevented?

There is no licensed vaccine against CMV currently available.

Pregnant women are recommended to take steps to reduce their risk of exposure to CMV and so reduce the risk of their developing baby becoming infected. Preventive steps include:

  • Wash hands often with soap and running water for at least 15 seconds and dry them thoroughly. This should be done especially after close contact with young children, changing nappies, blowing noses, feeding a young child, and handling children's toys, dummies/soothers, etc.
  • Do not share food, drinks, eating utensils or toothbrushes with young children.
  • Avoid contact with saliva when kissing a child.
  • Use simple detergent and water to clean toys, countertops and other surfaces that come into contact with children's urine, mucous or saliva.

Child care workers who are pregnant or considering pregnancy should pay particular attention to good hand hygiene, especially after changing nappies or assisting with blowing noses or toileting.

Testing for CMV is not routinely recommended for all women during pregnancy or for newborn babies. CMV testing is currently recommended for pregnant women who develop an acute viral illness or when ultrasound reveals a foetal abnormality. However, pregnant women and women planning a pregnancy may wish to discuss CMV testing with their doctor, particularly if they work in high risk settings (e.g. in child care centres) or have very young children at home2.

References

NSW Health CMV and pregnancy fact sheet

2 South Australian Perinatal Practice Guideline Cytomegalovirus

Further information