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New Maine law could lead to early detection of CMV in newborns

Beginning next year, every infant in Maine will be tested for the virus after failing two hearing tests.

MAINE, Maine — Maine joins more than a dozen other states which have approved laws addressing cytomegalovirus, also known as CMV.

Earlier this month, Gov. Janet Mills signed a law requiring screening for a potentially debilitating virus in some newborns. CMV is considered a common virus that causes no severe symptoms in adults. But some babies exposed in the womb can develop serious health problems, including hearing loss, developmental delays, and seizures. 

Beginning next year, every infant in Maine will be tested for the virus after failing two hearing tests. Right now, the Maine CDC's Newborn Bloodspot Screening Program tests for more than two dozen conditions.

CMV is a common virus that often circulates in daycares. It can present as the common cold or flu or show no symptoms. But it can lead to severe complications for an unborn child.

"Young women can become infected with it during their pregnancy, and that's when the baby could become infected and harmed by the virus," Dr. Stephen Meister said.  

Meister is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at the Edmund N. Ervin Pediatric Center in Augusta. He treats children with CMV and helped develop a list of recommendations to address CMV in Maine, including flagging other symptoms in newborns who may not have apparent signs like hearing loss.

"If a baby has a rash on the skin. If the baby is small for gestational age," Meister explained. 

According to the CDC, CMV affects one in 200 newborns in the U.S. every year, and about 20 percent of babies infected will develop health problems. 

That includes deafness, hearing and vision loss, seizures, and developmental delays. But in several cases, early detection means these babies can be treated with a prolonged course of antivirals, which can help symptoms.

"The option of even discussing antiviral treatment would be appropriate for her. We would be able to have that conversation with her care team and not miss that window of opportunity," Sweet said. 

Laura Sweet's daughter, Jane, failed her newborn hearing screening. But it took a year of seeing different specialists before her daughter was finally diagnosed with CMV and fitted with cochlear implants. Laura’s young son was in full-time daycare at the time, but she was unaware of the risk for CMV while pregnant. 

Her daughter is now seven years old. Jane is thriving in first grade. But the little girl still faces challenges and relies on a remote microphone system to help her hear teachers and coaches. And after six years of lobbying to educate women and doctors about the virus, Laura hopes the law will lead to better long-term outcomes.

The Maine CDC has until February 2023 to develop CMV screening guidelines and education campaigns for both doctors and patients.

For more information about the risks and prevention of CMV, click here.

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