Pregnant woman warned of dormant virus
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London - Thousands of pregnant women are unwittingly passing on infections to their unborn babies that cause severe disabilities and even miscarriage, researchers warn.
Many unknowingly carry a virus they have caught from their other children through nappy changing, eating from their plate or wiping their mouths.
This virus can lie dormant in a woman’s body for several years unnoticed but should she become pregnant it may cause serious harm to the foetus.
A report by researchers from University College London warns that as many as 1 000 babies a year are born with cytomegalovirus, or CMV, which leads to disabilities such as hearing loss, cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
The virus infects up to 60 percent of Britons at some point in their lives but most will not be aware because there are no symptoms. It is passed on through body fluids. Pregnant women usually catch it from their other young children through licking their spoons, changing nappies or kissing their faces.
Experts want GPs and midwives to warn pregnant women of the risks posed by the virus and how they can avoid catching it.
They say Britain is lagging behind the US and other European countries in terms of raising awareness and taking preventative measures.
Professor Paul Griffiths, who specialises in virology at University College London and contributed to the report, said: “While CMV rarely poses problems for an otherwise healthy child or adult, the consequences of infection with this virus during pregnancy can be devastating for the unborn child.
“Yet there is a substantial body of evidence available that shows that we can effectively reduce the risk of transmission with really simple steps. The problem is that this advice is not being followed because women in the UK are not being told about it before and during their pregnancies. We have to address this as a priority.
“All healthcare professionals responsible for the care of pregnant women must do all they can to make sure women know about CMV, and what they can do to reduce their chances of becoming infected.”
Professor Griffiths’s report, written on behalf of the charity CMV Action, urges women to take basic measures to reduce the chance of catching the virus from young children.
They include not sharing their food and not using the same cutlery even if only to finish off what is left on their plate. Other simple steps include not kissing them on the faces and thoroughly washing hands after nappy changing.
The virus, which is from the same family as herpes, is one of the main causes of deafness in young children and also leads to miscarriage and stillbirth. The researchers say that despite its risk, NHS professionals are failing to properly educate pregnant women. In the US, France and Italy, for example, GPs and midwives have an obligation to warn women about CMV, and the US government is also investing in a national awareness campaign.
Trials are under way to develop possible vaccines capable of eradicating the virus but these are still some years off.
Caroline Star, chairman of CMV Action, said: “The recommendations we are making in our report can be introduced as soon as today. Simple hygiene precautions in pregnancy really can make all the difference.”