Common virus in pregnant mothers can have devastating effects on newborn

CALGARY – Jen Bailey’s pregnancy was by all accounts normal, but when her son Nolan was born, he was very sick.

"He was on life support for the first four days and they pretty much told me right at the beginning that if he survived the first couple nights, that we would be really lucky."

"They had no idea what was wrong. I had no idea what was wrong".

When doctors discovered the cause of Nolan’s sickness, Jen was shocked.

A simple flu-like virus called CMV which she had caught during her pregnancy had left her son with permanent damage.

"His hearing is impaired, he’s totally deaf in his left ear and he’s aided in his right ear," says Jen.

Nolan has also been diagnosed as autistic and with ADHD; conditions that can also be caused by the virus.

CMV has symptoms similar to the flu and is often carried by young children. It is so common that people will often contract it on a number of occasions.

But during pregnancy, CMV can be devastating, especially if a mother is getting the virus for the first time.

"If a fetus is infected with a primary infection from the mother, the outcome is very, very poor," says Dr. Doug Wilson, Head of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

"Only about 10 per cent of those fetuses will be normal. About 60 per cent will die in utero or soon after birth, and another 30 per cent will live for a few years with serious illnesses and subsequently die of their exposure".

Children born to mothers who have had CMV before are often healthy, but there can still be problems.

"One of the most common things you find with that secondary exposure in a child that seems to be normal at birth – is deafness", says Dr. Wilson.

There is no vaccine against the virus but a blood test can reveal to mothers whether they have had the virus before.

Nolan’s mother is grateful that her son is as healthy as he is, but wishes she would have known about CMV before her pregnancy.

"I had no idea that CMV even existed until they told me when he was four days old", says Bailey.

"I wish that my doctors had told me right at the beginning about this virus so that I could have done as much as I could to prevent getting it."

CMV will impact 1 per cent of births – in Calgary that’s about 1,800 babies – but among that group only 10 per cent will have any symptoms.

Story continues below advertisement