Untreated cytomegalovirus infection in babies causes loss of hearing

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Jasmine Singletary
Published: Updated:

In the U.S., nearly one in three children are already infected with cytomegalovirus or commonly known as CMV, by age five.

The CDC said, over half of adults have been infected with CMV by age 40.

Once CMV is in a person’s body, it stays there for life and can reactivate. At any time, a person can also be re-infected with a different strain of the virus.

Most people with CMV infection have no symptoms and aren’t aware that they have been infected.

CMV is closely related to the viruses that cause chickenpox and mononucleosis, or mono and the symptoms of a congenital CMV infection vary.

Most babies infected before birth usually show no symptoms after delivery. Those who do may be born prematurely, have a low birth weight, jaundice, or microcephaly, which is a small head.

If not treated properly and in a timely manner, it could lead to premature hearing loss.

Dr. Kenneth Alexander, MD, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Nemours Children’s Hospital, said, “the challenge is, if we wait too long, those hearing pathways don’t develop. If children are not treated, then, doing things like cochlear implants doesn’t work very well. Furthermore, even if it’s not complete hearing loss, these children have significant language delays.”

Florida is one of the latest states, along with Minnesota and New Jersey, to pass legislation that requires testing for congenital CMV.

“The bill requires that any baby that fails their newborn hearing screen be tested for Cytomegalovirus. If that baby tests positive for Cytomegalovirus, it tells us how we have to manage that child,” Alexander said.

Currently, there’s no vaccine to prevent CMV. Washing hands well and often can help reduce the risk of infection. And a mother who has a CMV infection shouldn’t stop breastfeeding her baby.

Experimental vaccines are being tested for women of childbearing age. These vaccines may be useful in preventing CMV infection in mothers and infants and reducing the chance that babies born to women who are infected while pregnant will develop disabilities.

Seven states require each newborn who fails the newborn hearing test to be tested for congenital CMV: Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, New York, Utah, and Virginia.

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