About 460 babies are born each year with CMV.
About 460 babies are born each year with CMV. Contributed

Scientists aim to stop bug in babies

WHEN Kate Daly caught a flu-like bug while she was 29 weeks pregnant with twins, she had no idea of the devastating impact it would have on her babies.

She recovered after a brief stay in hospital, but the bug came back to haunt her when her twins, William and Emmaline, were born with hearing problems.

Tests revealed Mrs Daly had been infected with cytomegalovirus, a common infection that can cause major disabilities in babies, and passed it on to her twins while they were in the womb.

Like many mums, Mrs Daly had never heard of CMV, nor did she realise that one per cent of women pick it up for the first time while pregnant.

"When I was pregnant I would go to the other side of the street if I could smell someone smoking and I kept away from cats, soft cheeses, shellfish, alcohol, the whole gamut of things you are meant to avoid," the Sydney mother of four said.

"But I was never told about CMV."

About 460 babies are born each year with CMV, which is easily spread by saliva, urine and sexual contact and can cause mental disorders, brain damage, heart, hearing and eye problems.

In healthy people, CMV causes a mild flu-like illness that passes within a few days.

Once a person has been infected, CMV stays in their body for life.

However when women pick up CMV for the first time during pregnancy, one-third pass on the infection to their unborn babies.

There is no treatment for pregnant women with CMV.

But a major clinical trial in the United States hopes to show that by giving infected mums-to-be immunoglobulin, or antibodies from human blood, the number of unborn babies with CMV will fall.

Australian biotech company CSL is donating $2.5 million worth of immunoglobulin for the trial being conducted by US National Institutes of Health, the world's biggest research group.

CMV expert and medical virologist at the University of NSW Professor Bill Rawlinson said he hoped the trial would find a way to prevent babies being born with CMV.

He said pregnant women should not be alarmed about CMV as relatively few babies were infected, but he believed screening checks were needed.

"My view is that it's time to screen pregnant women so they know their status," he said.

Mrs Daly, whose son William has severe hearing and developmental problems, said she would have been tested for CMV if she had known a test was available.

She is setting up an advocacy group, Congenital CMV Australia, to raise awareness about the virus. Visit ccmvaustralia.org.

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