Campaigners warn of virus that causes birth defects

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A charity has launched a new campaign to raise awareness among pregnant women of a virus that can cause disabilities in children.

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Kimberley Walsh of Girls Aloud is leading the CMV campaign

CMV Action, a charity dedicated to eradicating cytomegalovirus (CMV), which causes birth defects in one in 1,000 newborn babies in the UK each year, has launched the ‘Wash Away CMV’ campaign.

The campaign is being led by the charity’s new patron Kimberley Walsh of Girls Aloud, who is asking people to post pictures of their hands with the words ‘Wash Away CMV’ written on them to highlight the message that washing your hands can prevent the spread of CMV, especially among pregnant women.

Photos can be emailed to the charity, posted on its Facebook page or tweeted using the hashtag #washawaycmv and @cmvactionuk.

The campaign has also received the backing of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the National Childbirth Trust, Bliss and Action Medical Research.

Cytomegalovirus or CMV is a common virus that can infect people of all ages. Around 80 per cent of people in the UK will catch the virus, which stays in your body for life.

While most healthy adults and children who catch CMV will have no signs or symptoms and no long-term effects, it can be very dangerous to unborn babies if the virus is passed on to them during pregnancy.

Toddlers and babies are most likely to spread the virus, which can live outside the body for up to 15 minutes.

According to CMV Action, the virus can cause miscarriages and stillbirth, and lead to children being born deaf or develop hearing problems in childhood. CMV can also cause cerebral palsy, blindness, learning difficulties, autism, dyspraxia, as well as limit a child’s mental and physical abilities.

Congenital CMV is one of the main causes of children being born with birth defects in the UK.

Despite this, very few professionals or pregnant women know about the virus or the simple steps they can take to protect themselves, says the charity, which advises pregnant women to follow a few basic hygiene precautions to reduce their risk of catching CMV, including:

  • avoiding sharing dummies, cutlery, drinks or food with anyone;
  • avoiding kissing young children under the age of six on the mouth or cheek;
  • washing hands with soap and water for 15-20 seconds after coming into contact with any bodily fluids;
  • washing any items that have been contaminated by bodily fluids with soap and water.

Patron of CMV Action, Kimberley Walsh, whose friend’s son was diagnosed with congenital cytomegalovirus after being born, leaving him profoundly deaf and autistic, said, ‘I have always wanted to do something for my friend’s son Christian, and particularly the charity CMV Action, which was set-up to support families affected by CMV and to raise awareness of the virus.

‘Congenital CMV is one of the main causes of children being born with birth defects in the UK but pregnant women are not routinely told about it, nor the simple steps they can take to protect themselves.'

CMV Action is a charity comprising of parents and volunteers, the majority of which have CMV children of their own, who have come together to raise public awareness of Congenital CMV, and campaign for better prevention and management measures within the NHS.