Topic: How a common, often harmless virus called cytomegalovirus can damage a fetus

Kimberly LaPlante’s second pregnancy was as uneventful as her first. She suffered numerous colds, probably caught from her older daughter, Georgia, who was in day care. But LaPlante wasn’t concerned. “I didn’t think much of it,” she says. “She was bringing home all sorts of germs, as all kids do.”

LaPlante, 36, a statistician who lives in Springport, Mich., had a full-term and normal delivery with daughter Audre, now 2. Although Audre failed her initial newborn hearing screen, the doctors told her parents not to worry, given the high rate of false positives. They suggested a repeat test later, which the baby passed. Her parents assumed she was fine.

But a year later, Audre still wasn’t talking. “She didn’t have any hard consonant sounds in her babbling,” LaPlante says. By age 15 months, she was unresponsive to conversation. “In day care, she was only engaging in something she could see, such as clapping,” LaPlante says.

Eventually, she was diagnosed with a severe hearing loss, which probably had been progressive since birth, the doctors said. Further tests performed on stored dried blood samples taken right after delivery revealed she had been infected with cytomegalovirus (CMV) during pregnancy.

CMV, a common virus in the herpes family, is harmless most of the time, except for those with impaired immune systems — and to a developing fetus.

Like all herpes viruses, including those responsible for genital herpes and chickenpox (and later shingles), infection with CMV is chronic. The virus remains in the body, although it can become dormant, and then less likely to be passed along during pregnancy. During an active primary infection, however, if transmitted in utero to a developing fetus, it can cause premature birth, hearing loss, vision problems, low birth weight, developmental delays and brain abnormalities, among other things.

Topic Discussed: How a common, often harmless virus called cytomegalovirus can damage a fetus

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