Women working with small children are at particular risk of catching CMV.
Understand the facts and the steps you and your employer can take.
CMV, or Cytomegalovirus, is a common virus that can infect people of all ages. Healthy adults and children will often have no signs or symptoms and no long-term effects from CMV. However, it can be dangerous to unborn babies if a pregnant woman catches it for the first time and passes the virus on to her unborn child.
CMV is spread from one person to another by close and prolonged contact with bodily fluids such as urine, saliva, tears, breast milk, semen and cervical secretions. You can catch CMV by kissing, through sexual intercourse, sharing cutlery, glasses, food, etc. and quite simply by touching toys a child has put in their mouth and then inadvertently putting your hand to your mouth. You cannot catch CMV by merely being in the same room with someone or cuddling them.
Once CMV is in a person’s body, it stays there for life. Whilst around 1% of children are born with it, by the age of 5 around 25% of children will have been infected. By secondary school age this will be even higher and around 80% of people will catch it at some point in their lifetime. However it is younger children that are the main risk as they tend to spread their bodily fluids around more readily. Pregnant women who have young children or work with young children should therefore be especially careful.
CMV can only be transmitted through exchange of bodily fluids, not through casual contact. Research has confirmed that the virus is deactivated by washing with soap and water. Simple hygiene precautions can therefore be used to manage risks.
A responsible employer is absolutely right to assess risks and fulfil their duty of care to staff. We advise schools, nurseries and childcare settings to manage this risk by:
1. Ensuring that your staff receive information about the CMV virus and the risks it poses. Our leaflet “CMV: your questions answered” may be a helpful resource.
2. Ensuring that all of your staff are informed of the hygiene precautions that they should take to avoid sharing bodily fluids with all children (remember male members of staff may have pregnant partners so may also want to minimise their risk of catching it):
- Avoiding sharing dummies, cutlery, drinks or food with anyone.
- Avoiding kissing babies, toddlers and small children directly on the mouth, and kiss them on the forehead instead.
- Washing hands regularly with soap and water, especially after changing nappies or coming into contact with bodily fluids.
3. Providing your staff with plastic gloves that they can use if they are ever required to change nappies or assist children with toileting in the course of their work.
4. Asking staff to regularly wash toys and other materials that could be contaminated by bodily fluids in soap and water.
5. Reassuring your staff that contact with children that does not involve exposure to saliva or urine poses no risk and should not be avoided out of fear of potential infection with CMV.
6. Reinforcing all these messages if a member of staff lets you know that they or their partner are pregnant.
Read about prevention and transmission in the What is CMV section.
CMV is not a rare disease that pregnant women can easily isolate themselves from. Children who are born with CMV should not be treated any differently from any other children, who may well also carry the virus. Excluding any children known to be affected is not going to remove the risk for pregnant members of staff. Any of the other children they teach could also carry it. Moreover, CMV can only be transmitted though exchange of bodily fluids, not through casual contact.