Most infected babies will be healthy and develop normally, but about 400 will develop physical or intellectual disabilities including deafness, blindness, microcephaly and epilepsy. In the most extreme cases, the virus can cause stillbirth, neonatal death and the severe condition cytomegalic inclusion disease (CID).
Pregnant women with young children are at increased risk of CMV, with toddlers and preschoolers prone to catching and transmitting the virus to their mothers via intimate contact such as kissing on the lips, and sharing food, dummies, and utensils.
On Saturday RANZCOG published its new recommendations advising that “all pregnant women trying to conceive should be given information about CMV prevention as part of routine antenatal or prepregnancy care”.
Pregnant women can reduce the risk of CMV by avoiding: sharing food, drinks or utensils with children under three years old; putting a child’s dummy in their mouth; and contact with saliva when kissing a child (kissing on the lips).
RANZCOG also advised women to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water especially after changing nappies, feeding young children or wiping their noses, and to clean toys, counter-tops and other surfaces.
The recommendations are a long time coming for families affected by CMV, including Kate Daly, founder of the Congenital CMV Association of Australia.
“It’s wonderful news for future families, but it’s bittersweet,” she said.
The virus left Mrs Daly’s son William profoundly deaf, developmentally delayed and with mild cerebral palsy. William’s twin sister Emmaline developed a learning disability.
“I wish these recommendations existed when I was pregnant with William and Emma,” Mrs Daly said. Her twins are now 8 years old.
Mrs Daly was confident that women would follow the advice about CMV in the same way they adhere to all pregnancy advice, from avoiding soft cheeses, seafood and alcohol, to taking the recommended multivitamins and vaccinations.
The guidelines did not recommend routine blood test screening in pregnancy, but they did specify that doctors could consider screening in women who are at high risk of CMV, such as women caring for young children.
Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.