One of our spring interns this year is Amy Smith. Amy lives in Ada and is currently working on her Master in Disability Studies degree through the City University of New York. She brought to our attention an interesting topic that we’d like to share with you.
In the upcoming fall semester, I will be working on and presenting a research paper as part of my capstone course. The topic is an examination of our reactions to the Zika virus in comparison to earlier disability-related health crises and specifically in comparison to a virus that already lives and thrives around us – cytomegalovirus, or CMV.
Thanks to news reports, we’re all well aware of the dangers of Zika when it’s contracted by pregnant women, especially the risk of congenital (at birth) effects on their unborn children. Specifically, those effects include microcephaly (reduced head size), decreased brain tissue, intellectual/developmental disabilities, eye and vision issues, and joint/muscle tone issues.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 58 children have been born in the United States with congenital disabilities as a result of Zika infection as of April 2017. Calls for a vaccine and for increased research funding are common – there’s an understanding that we must do something about the Zika virus.
What we’re less aware of are the dangers of CMV, especially given its widespread nature. CMV infection rates are between 60 and 70% in developed countries, and nearly 100% in less-developed countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 50 and 80% of the population of the United States has had an active CMV infection by the age of forty.
Just as with Zika, if healthy adults and children contract CMV, they often don’t even know it. Even obvious symptoms range from a simple rash to fatigue and fever that easily pass away. CMV is most commonly transmitted in home and daycare settings via exposure to bodily fluids (saliva, urine, blood) of small children. It can be very simple to avoid CMV infection during pregnancy by washing hands often, avoiding close contact with small children, and not sharing food or drinks. When a pregnant woman contracts CMV, her unborn child does as well, resulting in what is called congenital CMV infection.
Congenital CMV infection has many of the same results as congenital Zika infection – microcephaly, brain issues, and intellectual/developmental disabilities – but can also cause hearing loss or impairment and cerebral palsy. CMV also has a much bigger impact than Zika. It affects one in 150 births, or approximately 30,000 children every year, and is the most common preventable cause of neonatal disability in the United States.
More children will be born with disabilities due to congenital CMV this year than with Down syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Spina Bifida, or pediatric HIV/AIDS. So why are we so unaware of CMV in comparison to Zika? The CMV Foundation estimates that only 9% of women know about CMV, and often doctors don’t inform their pregnant patients of its risks or suggest testing for the virus.
I believe that disability and child advocates need to band together to increase awareness of CMV. We’ve worked to eradicate polio. We’ve decreased the risk of measles. Why wouldn’t we work to make such an easily preventable infection a thing of the past as well? Please visit the National CMV Foundation at https://www.nationalcmv.org for more information, including an overview of CMV, tips to reduce transmission, current research and news, and fact sheets to share.