SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah is the first state in the nation to launch an education and screening campaign for a common virus known as CMV.
CMV, or cytomegalovirus, is a member of the herpes family of viruses and infects people of all ages.
Most people who have the virus show no signs or symptoms. However, when the virus strikes during pregnancy, the baby can become infected before birth, and problems can develop.
An average of 365 babies, or one per day, are born with CMV in Utah each year, said Dr. Stephanie McVicar, specialty services program manager at the Utah Department of Health.
When this happens, the virus is transmitted to the unborn infant and can affect the brain, eyes or inner ears. Approximately one in five children with congenital CMV infection will develop permanent problems, such as hearing loss or developmental disabilities.
"Because CMV infection is a preventable virus, this needs to be brought to the public's attention. It is the most common virus that no one has heard of," McVicar said.
"About 40 percent of women who become infected with CMV for the first time during a pregnancy will pass the infection to their fetus. CMV is the leading cause of nongenetic hearing loss in children."
In addition, McVicar said, congenital CMV infection causes more long-term health problems and childhood deaths than Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, neural tube defects and pediatric HIV/AIDS.
"Utah is an amazing hub of health care firsts," McVicar said. "We are so lucky to have specialists in many areas that are found nowhere else. CMV is a very common virus. However, there have not been a lot of research studies done yet on treatments for the infection."
McVicar said three studies are being done in Utah right now. The first two are examining the use of anti-viral medications to treat babies diagnosed with congenital CMV.
One is being done through the department of pediatric otolaryngology at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City. It is examining the use of the drug valganciclovir to slow the progression of hearing loss.
The other is being done through the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease at the University of Utah, looking at the use of ganciclovir and determining its safety and efficacy in children diagnosed with congenital CMV hearing loss.
The third study, conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Research Network, of which Utah is a part, is trying to prevent congenital CMV.
McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden is one of the participating hospitals in this study, McVicar said.
"Through these studies, some Utah-specific statistics have been discovered, such as 20 percent of children diagnosed with hearing loss are because of congenital CMV."
In addition, the CMV public education and testing law came from House Bill 81, which was sponsored by Ronda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland, who wanted to bring the disease to the forefront because her granddaughter suffered hearing loss from congenital CMV, McVicar said. The disease progressed to profound bilateral hearing loss that ultimately required bilateral cochlear implantation.
The law requires UDOH to educate women about the dangers of the virus during pregnancy and how to prevent it. It also requires doctors to test newborns for CMV if the infants fail two hearing tests, McVicar said.
The risk of getting CMV through casual contact is very small. The virus is generally passed from infected people to others through direct contact with body fluids, such as urine or saliva, McVicar said.
If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the best way to protect your baby is to protect yourself. Wash your hands often with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers, feeding a young child, wiping a young child's nose or mouth and handling children's toys.
McVicar also said it's important not to share food, drinks, eating utensils or a toothbrush with children. Do not put a child's pacifier in your mouth, and avoid contact with a child's saliva when kissing or snuggling.
Symptoms of CMV can include a sore throat, fever and swollen glands.
More information on CMV can be obtained by visiting http://www.health.utah.gov/cshcn/CHSS/CMV.html or by calling Mother To Baby Utah at (800) 822-2229.