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Doctors call for action on congenital CMV infection

The Australasian Virology Society has called for more research into finding a vaccine for cytomegalovirus (or CMV), the major infectious cause of permanent disabilities in children in Australia and New Zealand.

Dec 08, 2017, updated Dec 08, 2017

Congenital CMV infection imposes a large burden on affected families and healthcare systems worldwide.

In Australia and New Zealand more than 2000 babies are born each year with congenital CMV infection and as a result over 400 of these will have a permanent disability.

During pregnancy, CMV from the mother’s circulation can cross the placenta to infect a foetus and cause hearing or vision loss, small head size, developmental delay, intellectual disability and, in rare cases, death.

This is by far the most common congenital infection, and causes a larger public health burden than all others including rubella, Zika virus and HIV, says Flinders University Associate Professor Peter Speck, secretary of the Australasian Virology Society.

More research is required with no vaccine available against CMV and antiviral treatments not adequate for infants and pregnant mothers.

The Australasian Virology Society, which represent more than 700 clinicians and scientists in Australia and NZ, is calling for more research towards preventing CMV, as well as new antiviral treatments and a CMV vaccine deserve strong support from governments and funding bodies.

Associate Professor Speck joins Professor William Rawlinson, Director of Serology and Virology at the Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW, the society’s president Professor Nigel McMillan, and 700 society members in informing and educating the community about the available interventions that may reduce the threat posed by congenital CMV infection.

A recent review paper by Professor Rawlinson and the international medical community, published in the prestigious journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, lists simple hygiene precautions that reduce the risk of CMV infection in pregnant women, thereby reducing the risk of congenital CMV.

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These hygiene precautions are:

  • Do not share food, drinks or utensils used by young children.
  • Avoid contact with saliva when kissing a child.
  • Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water for 15-20 seconds, especially after changing nappies, feeding a young child, or wiping a young child’s nose or saliva.

Additional precautions that can be considered, but are less likely to prevent CMV infection, include cleaning toys, countertops and other surfaces that come into contact with children’s urine or saliva, and not sharing a toothbrush with a young child.

Other bodies such as state health departments have also published jurisdictional guidelines that deliver a similar message, including here.

  1. Rawlinson WD, Boppana SB, Fowler KB et al. Congenital cytomegalovirus infection in pregnancy and the neonate: consensus recommendations for prevention, diagnosis, and therapy. Lancet Infect. Dis., 17(6), E177-E188 (2017).
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