Cerebral Palsy Alliance launches 2021 CMV Awareness Month

Cerebral Palsy Alliance launches 2021 CMV Awareness Month
Posted on Mon 31 May 2021

Every year, more than 400 Australian children are born with lifelong disabilities caused by cytomegalovirus (CMV) – yet the virus remains largely unknown in the general community. A new campaign from Cerebral Palsy Alliance aims to change that.

Cerebral Palsy Alliance, in collaboration with CMV Australia, has launched a national campaign to heighten awareness of the most common infectious cause of disabilities in newborn babies. 

CMV is harmless to most children and adults with healthy immune systems, but if a pregnant woman is infected with CMV, there is a risk that her unborn baby will also become infected.

CMV can cause damage to the baby’s developing brain, leading to epilepsy, hearing loss, intellectual impairment, cerebral palsy and, in rare cases, death. In spite of this, just 1 in 6 pregnant women have heard of CMV, and only 10% of maternal health professionals regularly talk to pregnant women about this common virus. 

To mark CMV Awareness Month in June, Cerebral Palsy Alliance and CMV Australia have joined forces on a new campaign to educate and inform pregnant women, young families, medical professionals, and the wider public about the risks of CMV – and importantly, how it can be prevented. 

“CMV can have profound effects on babies, with research suggesting that CMV may play a role for up to 10% of all children with cerebral palsy. As a global leader in the treatment and prevention of cerebral palsy, CPA is dedicated to raising awareness about its causes and educating the community on the simple steps we can all take to help prevent CMV,” 

- Rob White, Chief Executive Officer of Cerebral Palsy Alliance. 

This major consumer-focused campaign aims to bring CMV to the attention of pregnant women, families planning for children and the wider public. 

Starting this week, 30-second radio ads highlighting the dangers of CMV and steps to prevent infection will be played across the Nova and Smooth FM networks, complemented by a digital and social media campaign, national media appearances, and other supporting efforts. 

“Every pregnant woman has the right to know about the simple prevention strategies that can reduce their risk of CMV in pregnancy, and we must do better to get this message out to both health professionals and the community,” 
- Professor Nadia Badawi, Macquarie Foundation Chair of Cerebral Palsy at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Institute, The University of Sydney and Medical Director of the Grace Centre for Newborn Care, Westmead Children's Hospital. 

There are several proven ways to reduce the risk of transmitting CMV for pregnant women, including: 

  • Avoid sharing food, drinks, cutlery, toothbrushes or dummies with young children. 
  • Avoid contact with saliva when kissing a child – instead, try a kiss on the forehead. 
  • Wash your hands for at least 15 seconds after close contact with the urine or saliva of young children, such as when changing nappies, blowing noses, or handling children’s toys and dummies.

For more on preventing CMV, head HERE. 

“CMV is a preventable cause of disability, and the hygiene strategies are simple – the greatest challenge is getting these important messages out to health professionals and families.”
- Dr Hayley Smithers-Sheedy, NHMRC Early Career Fellow at the Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Epidemiology, Australasian Cerebral Palsy Clinical Trials. 

The consumer awareness campaign will be complemented by an ongoing educational campaign aimed at maternal health professionals, including a midwife e-Learning course, which has already been accessed by more than 700 midwives across Australia. 

The e-Learning course, created in partnership with The University of Sydney, CMV Australia and the Australian College of Midwives, was launched in 2020 in consultation with midwives, obstetricians, infectious disease specialists, researchers and families impacted by CMV. 

CMV – key facts and further information:

  • CMV stands for cytomegalovirus
  • CMV is a common viral infection in the herpesvirus family – it will affect up to 85% of the population by 40 years of age, though most healthy people will show no symptoms or only mild flu like symptoms
  • The virus is passed from person to person through contact with bodily fluids such as urine, saliva and nasal mucous
  • If a woman is newly infected with CMV while pregnant, there is a risk that her unborn baby will also become infected (congenital CMV)
  • In Australia, roughly 2,000 children are born with congenital CMV every year. Of these, about 400 will be born with lifelong disabilities such as epilepsy, hearing loss, intellectual impairment, cerebral palsy and, in rare cases, death
  • This makes CMV 20 times more common than well-known causes of complications in pregnancy, such as toxoplasmosis and listeria
  • Just 1 in 6 pregnant women have heard of CMV, and only 10% of maternal health professionals routinely talk to women in their care about CMV
  • Women who work with or care for young children are at increased risk of CMV infection
  • There are simple steps to reduce the risk of CMV in pregnancy – you can find out more by visiting the websites of Cerebral Palsy Alliance or CMV Australia

Other CMV resources:

Cerebral Palsy Alliance is pleased to announce the appointment of Andrew Buchanan as Chairperson of the Board of Directors, taking over from Paul Masi after a decade of visionary leadership. 

Three-year-old William came to CPA Wollongong when he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) at one. Thanks to support from Speech Pathologist Jo Grayson, and Occupational Therapist Kathryn Boroczky, William’s parents are focussing on a future with greater possibilities.