Zika virus has made headlines and put fear in the hearts of pregnant women everywhere. The most recent numbers suggest over 800 pregnant women have been infected with the virus in the United States. This is a large number of babies who may need special care and therapy after birth. The birth defects can be severe and go beyond microcephaly (small head size) to include hearing loss, joint defects, brain damage and vision loss.
Most people may not realize that Zika virus isn’t just transmitted by mosquito bites. It can also be transmitted by sexual contact or through body fluids like sweat, tears and blood. This means that the virus may continue being contracted all year rather than during the summer when mosquitoes are biting.
Zika virus is definitely better known right now, but CMV or Cytomegalovirus can cause some of the very same birth defects and has been among us for years. CMV is one of the most common viruses we encounter. The CDC states that 50% of Americans are CMV positive, but in some areas of the country it’s closer to 80%. Usually healthy people never even realize they have it or they may think they have a mild cold once infected. CMV poses little risk to healthy people, but immunosuppressed individuals are susceptible to more serious complications. HIV, chemotherapy, organ transplant patients and infants are all considered to have weakened immune systems. Not only CMV, but even the common cold can be serious for people that can’t fight infection properly.
Women who are healthy and have already been exposed to CMV before pregnancy have very little need for concern. Babies are at risk when the mother has never had the virus and becomes infected for the first time during pregnancy. A small percentage of those babies can have severe problems similar to those caused by Zika virus.
If you are pregnant or thinking about having a baby all of the risks can be overwhelming. You may be thinking, “Just what I need…one more thing to worry about!” If you are concerned, talk with your doctor at The Woman’s Clinic in Jackson, MS. We are here to help you through every step of your pregnancy.