UK LAGGING BEHIND OTHER NATIONS IN MANAGING THE MOST COMMON MOTHER TO CHILD VIRAL INFECTION IN PREGNANCY, ACCORDING TO NEW REPORT
- 2-3 babies born each day affected by cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection – equivalent to almost 1,000 babies every year
- CMV can cause stillbirth, miscarriage and disabilities and is the leading preventable cause of hearing loss in children
- Further education and changes in NHS practice urgently required, say UK experts
LONDON, 30th JUNE 2015: A new report authored by leading experts in pregnancy and infection is calling for urgent action to reduce the number of infections occurring in pregnancy caused by CMV – the so-called ‘Stealth Virus’, that is the UK’s leading preventable cause of hearing loss in children.
Published by CMV Action, and launched to conclude global CMV awareness month, “We Need To Talk About CMV” explains that the risk of transmitting the virus is known to be significantly reduced by following simple hygiene practices. Around three out of every five people in the UK can expect to catch CMV at some point in their lives, yet research has shown that only around one in three adult women of child-bearing age has even heard of it.
“While CMV rarely poses problems for an otherwise healthy child or adult, the consequences of infection with this virus during pregnancy can be devastating for the unborn child. Yet there is a substantial body of evidence available that shows that we can effectively reduce the risk of transmission with really simple steps,” said Professor Paul Griffiths, Professor of Virology at University College London, and contributor to the report. “The problem is that this advice is not being followed because women in the UK are not being told about it before and during their pregnancies – we have to address this as a priority.”
As well as identifying the areas needed for further research, the report compares current UK practices to those of other nations in which reducing CMV infection is given far greater attention. Important differences in practice between the UK and elsewhere include:
- Prioritising finding a vaccine: In the US the Institute of Medicine has ranked development of a CMV vaccine as being of the highest priority because of the potential lives saved and disabilities prevented.
- Public education: This is widely recommended. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investing in a public education programme to facilitate this and it is included by health professional organisations in Australia and France. In some US states (Utah and Hawaii) public education is now mandatory and at least four other states are planning the same.
- Screening at birth: The US Department of Health is exploring an approach that could be used to screen all newborns in the US for CMV. In the state of Utah, CMV testing is mandatory for newborns who fail their hearing screen and other states are debating a similar approach.
To help address the findings outlined in the report, CMV Action is launching an educational programme aimed at midwives, alerting them to the latest advances in the scientific understanding of CMV and encouraging them to tell pregnant women about the virus. In addition, the organisation has produced updated information materials for use with women, providing clear advice on how to reduce the risks.
Specific actions contained in the report:
The report cites a number of measures that should be adopted, many of which require no additional resources from the NHS and can be taken up immediately. These include the immediate introduction of minimum standards of care for pregnant women such as:
- the provision of advice about reducing the risk of CMV infection, in the same way as advice is provided about taking folic acid before conception
- alerting women to the dangers from CMV in the same way as advice is given about other food and animal-borne infections, as well as ways to reduce risks
- healthcare professionals responsible for care during pregnancy (such as obstetricians, radiographers and sonographers) being alert to indicators of elevated risk, such as foetal abnormalities, so that appropriate action can be taken
The report calls for longer term changes: putting in place guidelines and pathways for testing; diagnosis and management of CMV; identifying late-onset problems; tracking longer term outcomes; and an increase into research.
Further information about CMV, including the full report, is available at here: www.cmvaction.org.uk/talk-about-cmv
NOTES TO EDITORS:
About CMV Action
CMV Action is a UK organisation of parents and volunteers who have come together to raise public awareness of congenital CMV and to campaign for better prevention measures within our health service. They offer advice, support and friendship to anyone affected by congenital CMV, putting families in touch with each other who may be facing similar issues or live nearby.
In addition to their work advocating for those affected by this virus, they also work with a number of medical professionals who have an interest in congenital CMV and support much needed research in this field.
Congenital CMV infection affects almost 1,000 babies each year and is more common than Down’s syndrome.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Stealth Virus’ – since it can be spread by individuals who are perfectly healthy – CMV is 30 times as common as better known infections such as toxoplasmosis (spread via cat faeces) and listeriosis (spread via unpasteurised dairy products). The chance of getting a CMV infection from casual contact is very small. However exposure to the saliva and urine of small children is the main cause of transmission to pregnant women.
Reducing the risk of getting CMV infection
Pregnant women can reduce their risks of catching CMV through simple hygiene measures:
- Avoid sharing food, drink, cutlery or dummies with anyone
- Avoid getting saliva in your mouth when kissing a child. You can do this by trying to give more kisses on the head instead of the lips or give them a big hug
WASH WITH CARE:
- Wash any items which may have been in contact with bodily fluids.
- Clean your hands after touching a child’s urine or saliva. Many women say they already wash their hands after changing nappies. But they are less aware of the importance of washing hands after contact with saliva, for example after feeding a child or wiping a child’s nose or mouth.
Treating CMV infection
Some of the consequences of infection can be reduced if its presence is detected soon enough after birth for antiviral treatment to be effective. Treatment of babies, however, does carry risks and should be discussed carefully with healthcare professionals. Further information that can help inform parents during this process is available at: http://cmvaction.org.uk/what-cmv/treatment
Management of CMV
A range of measures are recommended, depending on how the infection has affected the child. Further information can be found at: http://cmvaction.org.uk/what-cmv/management
Research into CMV
Despite the human form of this virus being identified in the 1950s, no effective vaccine against it is yet available, making it imperative that women are properly counselled during pregnancy on the steps they should consider taking to reduce the risks of infection. Information on some of the research projects currently underway In CMV, including vaccines that may be available in the future, can be found at: http://cmvaction.org.uk/health-professionals/research