Although CMV is a common virus world-wide, and which most people in the UK will catch, few have heard of it. Producing probably nothing more than mild cold-like symptoms, most health adults will not even realise they have it. However, if a pregnant woman catches the virus, especially just before conception or during her first trimester, it can be passed to her unborn baby and may cause miscarriage or stillbirth, or other serious damage to the foetus.
Congenital CMV is one of the main causes of children being born with permanent disabilities. These include physical and learning impairments, cerebral palsy, profound hearing loss, sight loss and epilepsy.
Cytomegalovirus is spread through bodily fluids and the chance of getting the infection from casual contact is very small. However, a lot of small children catch it so women who work with children, or who have a family already, need to be especially careful during pregnancy. The good news is that ensuring good hygiene such as regular handwashing, and making simple changes where possible, such as not sharing food, drink and cutlery with small children, and kissing them on the head instead of the lips, can make all the difference.
Currently pregnant women receive no advice about CMV and about reducing their risk of infection. CMV Action are campaigning hard to raised awareness of the virus and its possible consequences amongst the general public and health care professionals.
We firmly believe midwives are ideally placed to discuss how to reduce the risk of transmission with pregnant women. Yet many midwives have received minimal education on the topic since their initial training.
CMV Action and the Royal College of Midwives have developed an e-learning module to support further education for midwives on CMV (Ilearn.rcm/.org.uk). It is aimed at enhancing midwives’ understanding as well as increasing their confidence to counsel women about CMV and its serious consequences as evidence supports that high quality training in prevention and management of CMV markedly reduces mortality and morbidity of fragile infant lives.