A young child washing his hands at a sink with his mum

‘Easy ways to care’: new-look CMV Awareness Month campaign launches

Congenital CMV is the most common infectious cause of disability in newborn babies.

While CMV is harmless to most people with healthy immune systems, in pregnancy the virus can cause damage to a baby’s developing brain.

Every year in Australia, more than 400 babies are born with life-long disabilities due to this common virus. CMV is known to cause epilepsy, hearing loss, intellectual impairment and, in rare cases, death. Around 10% of cerebral palsy is now believed to be linked to CMV.

If you’ve never heard of Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, you’re not alone. A 2023 national survey, conducted on behalf of Cerebral Palsy Alliance, has found that just 14% of women aged 20-40 are familiar with the virus.

That’s why, Cerebral Palsy Alliance has joined forces with CMV Australia to bring attention to the virus – and more importantly, to encourage the community to take the simple preventative measures that can reduce the risk of CMV infection.

In 2023, CPA is rolling out a new campaign targeting pregnant women and families planning pregnancy, ‘Easy ways to care’, made up of three steps to reduce the risk of CMV:

  • Wash with care: wash your hands after activities such as changing nappies
  • Kiss with care: avoid contact with saliva – try kissing your baby on the forehead instead of the lips
  • Don’t share: avoid putting a child’s dummy or toothbrush in your mouth, and don’t share food, cutlery or utensils with infants

Dr Hayley Smithers-Sheedy, a Senior Research Fellow at Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Institute, The University of Sydney and expert in CMV, said the new campaign aimed to empower the community.

“We know that parents and expectant mothers can be overwhelmed by health messages, and equally, healthcare professionals have so much crucial information to share with families. Our ‘easy ways to care’ campaign aims to support both groups by encouraging these simple and safe preventive measures that will in turn reduce the risk of CMV,” she said.

“The most common thing families affected by CMV say to us is, ‘we wish we’d known’. Everyone has the right to know how to reduce their risk of CMV, and it’s up to all of us to get the message out about how we can reduce the risk of CMV infection in pregnancy,” said Smithers-Sheedy.

The campaign will include digital advertising, partnerships with mums-and-bubs publications, and educational material.

“When I was pregnant, no one I knew had heard of CMV, not my family or my friends. How could I unknowingly be carrying a virus that was attacking my unborn baby, now I tell everyone I know about CMV” (BP) mother of a child with cerebral palsy and hearing loss due to congenital CMV.

Researchers from The University of Sydney have found that only 10% of maternity healthcare professionals regularly share information about CMV with women in their care (Shand et al, 2018). So in addition to the consumer awareness campaign aimed at pregnant women and their families, Cerebral Palsy Alliance researchers in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, CMV Australia have launched a new eLearning course to support General Practitioners which has been endorsed by Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). This course aims to help GPs have the tools and confidence to share CMV prevention strategies with families in their care.