Cytomegalovirus: Mother warns others of virus more dangerous to babies than Zika

Posted at 3:52 PM, Nov 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-23 22:57:48-05

ALTO, Mich -- It's a more common threat to babies than the Zika virus, but you don't hear about it nearly as much. Every year, up to 40,000 infants are born with CMV, or the cytomegalovirus.

Babies born with it show a lack of coordination, hearing and vision problems, and abnormally small heads. Like the Zika virus, CMV causes little-to-no symptoms in adults, but can be devastating to a fetus. Unlike the Zika virus, CMV can spread like the cold or flu, making it even easier to catch.

400 children to die of CMV every year. One of those children is Tay Glieden, who passed away August 15, 2016. Now, his mom, Jessica is warning other mother's who simply aren't aware.

Jessica says she feels overwhelming sadness. She says her son Tay was born deaf and visually impaired. Some time later, Tay was diagnosed with epilepsy, cerebral palsy and CMV. All were signs that the boy who was always smiling, didn't have long to live.

Tay Glieden

Tay Glieden

"The hardest part is what happened to him was preventable," Glieden said. "I’m angry I didn’t know beforehand about this so I could protect myself and Tay."

Neurologist, Anastasia Luniova from Spectrum Health says almost everyone gets CMV at some point in their lifetime, adding that it's very common in adults. When children or adults first encounter the virus, they will likely have little-to-no symptoms.

According to the CDC, more than half of adults younger than 40 are infected with CMV. Once a person contracts the virus, it's there forever, re-activating at times.  However, this virus is devastating to babies infected with the virus prior to birth.

"These children could be deaf, have vision problems, they could be blind, they frequently have brain malformations, they have microcephaly, enlarged liver, enlarged spleen," Luniova said.

CMV is the most commonly transmitted virus from a pregnant woman to her fetus. It's transmitted through bodily fluids like saliva, blood mucus and tears.

Glieden believes she caught the virus at eight weeks gestation from her daughter who was two at the time.  According to the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, a woman who contracts CMV during pregnancy will transmit the virus to her fetus around 30 to 50 percent of the time.

"I think everybody should be tested for it before they get pregnant, so they know if they’ve already had their virus or not. That’s the huge thing. I apparently had never had the virus before, so when I got it, it got passed to him because I didn’t have antibodies to fight it," Glieden said.

For those who've already had the virus, the chance their baby catches CMV is dramatically lower, around 1-2 percent, Luniova says.

"Once a baby is infected, there is very little you can do out of supportive care and treating symptoms and problems," Luniova said.

Luniova says it's important pregnant women wash their hands, especially after changing diapers, adding it's important they not share food, drinks or kisses with children under six.

"If there’s a choice between attending the gathering with a lot of people in a closed room, versus not doing that, I think it would be a wise decision to avoid that," Luniova siad.

It's all crucial advice, Glieden says her doctor never shared with her.

Tay and his mother, Jessica

Tay and his mother, Jessica

"A lot of doctors don’t even know about it or know how to go about telling their patients about it," Glieden said. "It might be a bit of nuisance not being able to kiss your toddler while you’re pregnant or share food with them or whatever but it out ways what can happen to your unborn baby."

Dr. Luniova says right now there are no medications or vaccines that fully treat CMV in infants. However, the American Pregnancy Association says Hyper Immune Globuilin may help prevent the fetus from contracting the infection.

Blood tests can be used to diagnose CMV, but right now, doctors are not required to test pregnant women for the virus. Glieden is hoping lawmakers will soon make that change.