9 Investigates renewed push to screen for infant virus, CMV

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OVIEDO, Fla. - A virus that can cause some of the same birth defects as Zika is seeing a renewed push for early screening.
It’s called congenital cytomegalovirus, or CMV, and though doctors say it’s one of the most common viruses infants can contract, most families do not learn about it until it’s too late.

Brianna Giddens, 3, of Oviedo wears bright pink hearing aids due to progressive hearing loss.
She contracted CMV while in her mother Megan Giddens’ womb.

Doctors said it’s the most common virus an infant can contract in utero, impacting one in every 100 children.

But because only 10 percent of babies who contract it actually show symptoms, many parents know nothing about it.

“We were lucky enough to know during our pregnancy, but a lot of parents aren't that lucky.
They don't know until their child starts losing their hearing,” Giddens said.

In addition to hearing loss, CMV can cause vision problems, and like Zika, it can cause microcephaly or cerebral palsy. With the attention on the unrelated mosquito-borne illness this year, there’s now a renewed push to screen for CMV in pregnant women and newborns.

“Some states have advocated for universal testing for newborns,” Dr. Frederico Laham said.

Laham is the infectious diseases director at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

He treated Brianna, and said the most common way a pregnant mother can pass the infection onto a baby is through tending to another toddler.

Changing diapers and even sharing utensils with a young child can spread the virus.
The Giddens believe caring for their oldest, Tyler, who was a toddler while Brianna was in the womb, might have been a factor.

“Babies can have abnormalities with the makeup of the brain, with abnormal anatomy, they can develop seizures,” Laham said.

After watching their baby girl go through antiviral treatments, audiology and speech therapy several times a week, Megan and Jason Giddens want other expecting parents to push for early tests.

“It’s one of our biggest fears, and it is scary that one day my daughter may not be able to hear my voice,” Jason Giddens said.

By age 40, half of Americans will have had CMV, but many might not know it.
The virus can seem like the flu, or common cold, or they might not have any symptoms.

There is no vaccine, but parents can help prevent the spread of CMV through simple hand washing and not sharing utensils with toddlers.