ASHA and National CMV Foundation to Spotlight Largely Unknown but Potentially Serious Virus

Cytomegalovirus Is a Leading Cause of Hearing Loss and Other Long-Term Disabilities in Babies, Yet 91% of Women in the U.S. Have Never Heard of It

June 4, 2024

(Rockville, MD) As Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Awareness Month kicks off, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the National CMV Foundation are announcing today a free new webinar aimed at raising public awareness of this routine yet largely unknown virus that can cause serious complications in developing fetuses.

More than half of all adults in the United States become infected with CMV by age 40, making it an exceedingly common illness. In general, CMV is harmless in healthy children and adults. However, it can cause lifelong disabilities in children if their mothers are infected while pregnant. Babies who are born with the virus are considered to have congenital CMV (cCMV).

Complications from cCMV can include hearing loss, vision loss, intellectual and developmental disabilities, lack of coordination, small head size, and, in some cases, even death. In the United States, about 1 in 5 babies with cCMV infection will have birth defects or other long-term health problems.

ASHA–CMV Foundation Free Educational Event

On Wednesday, June 12—at 12:00 p.m., Eastern Time—ASHA and the National CMV Foundation will host a free live webinar aimed at educating the public about cCMV.

A panel of experts in audiology, otolaryngology, and speech-language pathology—and a caregiver of a child with cCMV—will discuss what CMV is, how to prevent infection while pregnant, screening and intervention services for children with CMV, and legislation to increase identification of cCMV at birth. Panelists will welcome attendees’ questions during the event.

Congenital CMV

In the United States, about one out of every 200 babies is born with cCMV. It is the most common cause of infectious congenital disabilities in babies—and has a higher incidence rate than any other disease for which newborns are screened.

Despite the potentially serious and long-term repercussions of cCMV, just 9% of women in the United States have heard of it. Because toddlers are common CMV carriers (it affects 70% of healthy children between 1 and 3 years of age), women who work with young children (e.g., preschool teachers, early intervention providers) or who are pregnant for a second time (or later) are more likely to be exposed to the virus.

“It’s truly unfathomable and highly concerning that more women, and the general public, have not been made aware of the potential risks that CMV poses in pregnancy,” said Khaliah Fleming, EdD, MPH, MCHES, Executive Director of the National CMV Foundation. “This is especially unfortunate because there are many ways mothers can reduce their likelihood of contracting the virus. Basic steps like not putting their child’s pacifier in their own mouth and not sharing food with their toddler go a long way. Women deserve to be informed about this threat, and to have the opportunity to take steps that lessen the risk of potential lifetime disability or even the death of their child.”

“Congenital CMV is the leading non-genetic cause of hearing loss in children, and failing a newborn hearing screening may be one of the first signs that a baby has cCMV,” said Tena McNamara, AuD, CCC-A/SLP, 2024 ASHA President. “We want parents to know that if their baby doesn’t pass their hearing screening in the hospital, parents should ask that their child be tested for cCMV. A diagnosis provides parents with critical information as they plan to meet the needs of their new family member. It also can allow for additional treatment options, such as antiviral medications. Antivirals can reduce the severity of hearing loss in some cases if administered within the baby’s first few weeks of life.”

McNamara stressed that hearing loss associated with cCMV is highly variable and unpredictable. Even if a baby with cCMV passes their newborn hearing screening, they still may develop hearing loss weeks, months, or even years later. It’s important that children with cCMV are closely monitored throughout early childhood—and that they have access to skilled pediatric audiologists and speech-language pathologists who can provide further testing and intervention when needed.

Currently, only one state (Minnesota) screens all newborns for cCMV, with Connecticut set to become the second one in 2025. Nineteen other states have some form of targeted screening or family education requirements, but much more needs to be done to improve identification of cCMV and increase awareness of it.

To attend this free webinar, fill out the online registration form. To learn more about cCMV, visit the National CMV Foundation’s website. For more information about childhood hearing loss, visit ASHA’s website.

About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 234,000 members, certificate holders, and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology assistants; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) identify, assess, and treat speech, language, and swallowing disorders.

ASHA Corporate Partners