How Kissing Toddlers During Pregnancy Can Cause Life-Changing Health Effects
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How Kissing Toddlers During Pregnancy Can Cause Life-Changing Health Effects

An expectant mother who kisses her toddler can put her unborn child at risk for a common virus that can lead to disability or death.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common viral infection that usually goes undetected or causes mild symptoms in most people.

How Kissing Toddlers During Pregnancy Can Cause Life-Changing Health Effects

However, unborn babies who contract the virus in utero can be born with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities, including hearing loss, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy.

Despite CMV being the most infectious cause of disability in newborn babies and 20 times more common than listeria or toxoplasmosis, only one in six pregnant women has heard of it.

The virus is spread through contact with bodily fluids such as urine, saliva, and nasal mucosa.

Pregnant women are advised not to share drinks and cutlery with young children, to avoid contact with saliva when kissing a child, and to wash their hands for at least 15 seconds after changing diapers, blowing their nose, or handling children’s toys and pacifiers.

Camera IconPam Rogers contracted CMV while pregnant with her son Christopher, 8. Provided Credit: NCA NewsWireCamera IconChristopher lives with multiple disabilities and delays. Credit provided: NCA NewsWireCamera Icon, His mom, said he had a smile that could light up anyone. Credit provided: NCA NewsWire

After Pam Rogers, 34, contracted in-utero CMV, she was advised to terminate the pregnancy after doctors said her son’s brain had not formed properly and he would die after birth.

Christopher, now 8, has defied all odds and lives with multiple handicaps and delays.

“He’s non-mobile, non-verbal, and fully tube-fed, but he’s got the best smile and the ability to make your day… He’s incredible,” said the Canberra mother of four.

Ms. Rogers believed that telling expectant mothers about CMV would cause mass hysteria. Still, she said it was a mother’s right to be properly educated and choose what to do with the information.

“Don’t tell me what I can and can’t know. Don’t censor things… It should be about empowering women. We need to give pregnant women more credit.

“It’s frustrating that (CMV) isn’t talked about much, and people aren’t being educated when it affects people so much.”

Camera icon Stephanie Greally, 37, had never heard of CMV before her sons Louis and Archer (LR) were diagnosed. Credit provided: NCA NewsWireCamera icon. She said kissing her toddler Eva, 3 (pictured with Archer and Louis) could lead to infection. Credit provided: NCA NewsWire

Perth mother Stephanie Greally’s twins Archer and Louis tested positive for the virus after they were born by emergency cesarean section at 34 weeks in August 2021.

While Archer remains asymptomatic, Louis suffers from hearing loss, calcifications, and enlarged ventricles.

Ms. Greally, 37, said she had never heard of CMV before her son’s diagnosis.

“Had I known it was there and how it was transmitted, I would have been more diligent about kissing my toddler during my pregnancy,” she said.

“I had no idea that my toddler’s normal loving, caring, and kissing things was endangering my unborn babies.”

Camera IconArcher and Louis tested positive for the virus after they were born by emergency cesarean section at 34 weeks. Credit provided: NCA NewsWire

There are no CMV vaccinations, but Moderna is working to develop one.

Ahead of CMV Awareness Month in June, CMVictory’s clinical trial targets women ages 16-40 worldwide to participate in a 30-month trial.

UNSW’s CMVictory lead researcher Raina MacIntyre said the goal was to create a vaccine with antibodies that would kill the virus and prevent unborn children from developing birth defects.

“Rubella used to be one of the leading causes of congenital blindness and other malformations, but there is a successful vaccine program against it, so congenital rubella is rarely seen again,” she said.

“We have not yet had an effective (CMV) vaccine. If there is, which we are trying to find out through this trial, it will have a huge impact on birth defects due to infection in children.”

Women of childbearing age who are not pregnant and have regular contact with young children, such as a parent or teachers, are eligible to participate.

Both Ms. Rogers and Ms. Greally said that if a CMV vaccine had been available, they would have had it.

“I wouldn’t change Christopher and his journey for the world, but I don’t want others to go through what we went through,” said Ms. Rogers.

For more information or to participate, visit the CMVictory website.