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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Virus threatens infants

    Elena Sabori, a guest speaker, talks to Sandra Gallardo, a second-year medical student. Sabori was diagnosed with CMV during her pregnancy, and she spoke to medical students about her experience and her 11-year-old daughter, who was affected by the virus.
    Elena Sabori, a guest speaker, talks to Sandra Gallardo, a second-year medical student. Sabori was diagnosed with CMV during her pregnancy, and she spoke to medical students about her experience and her 11-year-old daughter, who was affected by the virus.

    Look at the people around you. Over half of the people you see have the cytomegalovirus.

    Nearly 60 percent of the American population has the CMV virus, which is transmitted through saliva or urine, said Felicia Goodrum, an assistant professor in the department of immunobiology who has been working with the CMV virus for nine years.

    The number of those infected is higher in major cities, and in other countries around the world, the rate of infection is nearly 100 percent, said Goodrum.

    Most people do not know they are infected. CMV is an extremely common virus, in the herpes family, that doesn’t display any symptoms.

    “”If we can understand how the virus establishes latency and we can prevent it from doing that, then there is a chance that you can actually cure the virus as you would normal viruses,”” she said.

    As long as a person is healthy, they can harbor the virus without any consequences. It’s only when they contract a disease or need a transplant that they are at risk, said Goodrum.

    The fact that CMV is so commonly transmitted makes it a huge concern for pregnant women or people with an immune deficiency.

    “”It’s horrible if you think about a child who has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant and you get to the point where you find a bone marrow donor, which is very difficult, only to be killed by CMV,”” she said. “”It’s incomprehensibly tragic.””

    CMV is also potentially dangerous for pregnant mothers, who can pass on CMV to their unborn children, causing birth defects, said Goodrum.

    Members and students of the UA College of Medicine, along with the colleges of pharmacy and nursing, have been raising awareness for congenital CMV, which is when the virus is contracted before birth.

    According to Sean Elliott, associate professor of clinical pediatrics, mothers who contract CMV during their pregnancy have a 30 percent chance of having children born with Congenital CMV. If the mother was infected with the disease prior to her pregnancy, there is a 3 to 5 percent chance their child will have the disease.

    “”There’s so little recognition with what congenital CMV (is) that there are many children out there who aren’t getting access to services that might improve their quality of life,”” said Elliott.

    Congenital CMV affects about 40,000 children every year and can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, brain damage, growth problems and even death, said Elliott.

    Currently there is no vaccine for congenital CMV or for other strains the virus.

    “”Unfortunately right now … the hope is very dim for having an effective medication to either limit or treat … CMV,”” said Elliott. “”That doesn’t mean that one won’t be created.””

    Elliott believes there are precautions that mothers can take while pregnant to prevent congenital CMV.

    “”The biggest recommendation is that pregnant women should try and prevent themselves from being exposed (to CMV),”” he said. “”Lots and lots of hand washing, everything you can think of to prevent transmission.””

    Tracy McGinnis, founder and president of the Brendan B. McGinnis Congenital CMV Foundation, started this foundation to raise awareness about congenital CMV after her son was born with it.

    “”If we can get a vaccine that will block transmission of CMV then within this generation we can eradicate the virus,”” she said. “”That is also the other reason for public awareness: The more people that know about it, the stronger the outcry.””

    McGinnis also said that congenital CMV is not a disease commonly talked about among Congress or celebrities, unlike other congenital diseases that have the same rate of infection, but receive more attention.

    “”It’s not talked about on ‘Oprah,’ who I’ve been trying to get to talk about this for years now,”” said McGinnis. “”That’s why I started this foundation, to try and get a louder voice to get vaccine research going stronger.””

    Goodrum also believes that awareness needs to be raised in order to inform the public about this disease.

    “”The effects of this virus are very widespread and severe because it infects every cell. So many things can happen,”” she said. “”If there is no awareness, no public understanding then there is no appreciation for the severe effects.””

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