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CMV: How a virus can change your baby’s life

An unborn baby has no defence against the devastating congenital cytomegalovirus.

Most people have never heard of CMV, yet up to 80% of us silently carry the virus.

Cytomegalovirus – or CMV – often presents as a cold, or mild flu. We can carry it for our entire lives, and it is thought to have an impact on our immune system as we age, leaving us more susceptible to infection.

Still, most people will never even know they have CMV.

But when CMV is caught, or becomes active from an existing infection, during pregnancy, it can cause stillbirth, or serious birth defects, including intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and hearing loss. In fact, congenital CMV is the greatest infectious cause of birth defects in the developed world.

About 1% of babies are born with the virus; about 10-20% of them will develop problems, ranging from mild to severe.

Professor Rajiv Khanna, from QIMR Berghofer’s Tumour Immunology Laboratory, wants children tested for CMV at birth, to allow for early intervention strategies if required.

Ultimately, Professor Khanna hopes to develop an effective vaccine for adolescent girls, to protect future pregnancies.

Melody, whose son, Ethan, was born with brain damage and hearing loss as a result of congenital CMV, is a keen supporter of Professor Khanna’s CMV research.

“I now know of many parents whose children have been born with serious defects as a result of CMV; many who are in wheelchairs, unable to walk or hear. We need to do something to stop it.”

A vaccine would mean future generations could be protected from the harmful effects of congenital CMV. For Melody, this means many parents would be spared the heartbreak of raising a child with serious health problems.

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