Don’t kiss your kids? Questioning the recent advice about CMV in pregnancy

Don’t kiss your kids? Questioning the recent advice about CMV in pregnancy

These days, guilt seems intrinsic to parenthood. And as many mothers will know, health professionals seem ever ready to stoke up guilt with their advice. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Have your vaccines. Take your folate tablets. Eat a nutritious diet, but avoid soft cheese, cured meat, food that’s been long in a fridge, or (the list goes on). Avoid cats. Don’t co-sleep. Breast is best. And if other women can manage all this, why can’t you?

As reported this week, Australia’s college of obstetricians (RANZCOG) has just added another task to the burgeoning to-do lists of doctors and midwives. We’re now to tell women to try to avoid cytomegalovirus (CMV).

They have reasons for doing so, but as a GP and academic, I find myself sceptical.

What is CMV, and why does it matter in pregnancy?

CMV is a widespread virus which often causes only a mild illness. Most adults have been infected with it in the past, and are immune.

But it’s different in pregnancy. If a pregnant woman is not already immune to CMV, and if she catches the virus, it can sometimes infect her fetus. And when it does, sometimes this causes problems such as hearing loss, epilepsy or developmental delay.

Though previously thought to be rare, researchers now think congenital CMV is under-recognised. They estimate that one or two in every 1, 000 infants may develop symptoms from being born with CMV – not rare, but uncommon.

The virus is spread through fluids such as saliva, snot and urine. Child-rearing is messy; if toddlers catch CMV, it’s easy ...

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