This Virus Is Dangerous for Unborn Babies—Here’s What One Mom Needs You to Know

“The biggest question I ask myself is: What could I have done differently?”
ByStephanie Grassullo
Associate Editor
Jun 2019
pregnant woman interacting with her toddler
Photo: Getty Images

Infections and germs are a major no-no for everyone, but the stakes are even higher when you’re pregnant. Bree Pennie was 20 weeks pregnant when, unbeknownst to her, her unborn child contracted cytomegalovirus (CMV). Now, her son, Dax, is 4 years old, and as a result of the virus he can’t walk or talk, is still spoon-fed, isn’t potty trained and needs help with most everyday activities. Pennie wasn’t aware of CMV and says she will now carry a “burden of guilt” forever. “The biggest question I ask myself is, what could I have done differently,” the mom [writes on Facebook]( tn =K-R). In honor of CMV awareness, she’s shedding light on the condition in hopes that others will take measures to stop the virus from spreading.

CMV is a common virus that can affect almost anyone, but a healthy person’s immune system usually keeps the virus from causing illness, the CDC explains. A pregnant woman can pass CMV to her child when the virus in the woman’s blood crosses through the placenta and infects baby. While most babies born with the disease never show signs or have health problems, a small percentage of babies have health problems that are apparent at birth or that develop later during infancy or childhood.

Dax was 3 months old when he was diagnosed with congenital CMV, and as a result of the virus, he has also been diagnosed with microcephaly, cerebral palsy, polymicrogyria, hearing loss, cortical vision impairment, global developmental delay and epilepsy. The little boy is now 4-and-a-half and can’t walk or talk, and has to rely on others’ help to complete everyday tasks.

“Dax is a little legend, there is no doubt about that,” his mom writes.” “He brightens our day with his big, cheeky smile and infectious laugh, but the reality is, it’s not easy.” To reduce the risk of exposure to CMV, pregnant women are advised to:

  • Wash hands often, especially after contact with young children
  • Avoid contact with tears and saliva when you kiss a child
  • Avoid sharing food or drinking out of the same glass as others
  • Clean toys and surfaces that come into contact with children’s saliva or urine
  • Don’t touch your face until you wash your hands after handling dirty diapers, tissues and other contaminated items

Had the mom known this when she was pregnant, she may have been able to prevent the infection from spreading. “I would have made myself a fresh piece of toast instead of finishing off my toddlers leftovers as I was running out the door," she writes. "I would have asked for cheek kisses instead of sloppy lip kisses from my sweet little girl; I would have packed more spare dummies instead of sucking the dirt off after it was dropped on the ground. [Funny] enough, it never dawned on me the germs in my daughter’s mouth were potentially more harmful than the dirt on the ground; I would get a fresh cup if I was unsure which one was mine; I would wash my hands more often.”

“Unfortunately I wasn’t CMV aware, and I have a burden of guilt that I will carry forever…”

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