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Screening newborns for a common virus is a cost-effective way to prevent lifelong disability

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Vancouver, B.C. - A study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics shows that screening newborn babies for congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is cost-effective and helps prevent lifelong disabilities.

​​The work was led by Dr. Soren Gantt, an Investigator at BC Children's Hospital, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia.

CMV is a common virus that can spread from mothers to fetuses during pregnancy and results in serious health problems in children, including hearing loss and developmental delay. Around 50 per cent of adults carry CMV, but most will never know they’re infected because the virus doesn’t usually cause symptoms in healthy adults.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent CMV, but early diagnosis of babies with congenital infection can reduce lifelong health impacts. Congenital CMV can be diagnosed by testing a baby’s saliva at birth, and affected babies can receive an antiviral drug that have been shown to improve their hearing and neurodevelopmental outcomes. By diagnosing CMV as early as possible, newborn screening programs can reduce the incidence of severe to profound hearing loss by 4 -13 per cent, depending on the type of screening program and the number of infected babies who receive treatment. Because babies with congenital CMV infection usually don’t have obvious symptoms at birth, without a newborn screening program most go undiagnosed and don’t receive optimal care.

“Both universal and targeted screening programs are medically beneficial, but concerns about cost have been a barrier to implementation,” say Dr. Gantt. “Our study shows both types of screening programs are cost-effective, and we hope this will lead to the introduction of more programs across North America.”

In May 2016, a newborn CMV screening program was launched at BC Women’s Hospital that provides CMV screening for all babies who fail the newborn hearing test or who are in the neonatal intensive care unit. This program was developed through a collaboration between the BC Early Hearing Program, BC Children’s Hospital, and BC Women’s Hospital, and is the first clinical screening program for congenital CMV in Canada.

Dr. Gantt hopes this research will increase public awareness about congenital CMV infection. Over 200 babies are born with CMV in BC every year and about 20 per cent will develop hearing loss. “CMV is the most important infection most people have never heard of,” says Dr. Gantt.


Contact:

Raman Bhangu
Communications Specialist
t: 604-875-2000 ext. 7967
Research; BC Children's Hospital
Research
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