CMV infection in unborn babies

The transmission of the cytomegalovirus to an unborn child normally occurs in the scope of a primary infection of the pregnant woman. In about one percent of the pregnant women in Europe that have no antibodies against the virus, a CMV
infection can be anticipated during pregnancy. Estimates say that in approximately 40 to 50 percent of these cases the virus will be transmitted to the newborn child. Mothers who have already had contact with the virus can also be infected once again. The possibility of acquiring a so-called secondary infection also is approximately one percent.

A CMV infection in an unborn baby can cause serious damage. As possible consequences the baby’s brain and nerves, eyes, liver and lungs as well as blood-producing organs may be affected. Beyond the 20th week of gestation an infection in the unborn child and physical impairments can be diagnosed by means of amniotic-liquor or high-resolution ultrasonic testing. However, in many cases an infection is detected only after the child is born, after the first signs of the disease, like bleeding into the skin, an enlargement of the liver or after hearing disabilities have appeared weeks and months later.

Prevention of CMV transmission and treatment

Due to the fact that her immune system can adequately cope with the cytomegalovirus a CMV infection usually presents no risk for the pregnant woman. However, in the case of a primary infection during pregnancy, the same virus poses a serious danger for the unborn child: The baby’s immune system is not yet experienced in dealing with the pathogens and not strong enough to protect its body from severe damage. Therefore, the prevention and therapy of congenital CMV infection play an especially important role.

Administration of antibodies (against the virus) during pregnancy

Hyperimmunoglobulins for the first time provide the possibility to treat a pregnant woman with CMV primary infection. These are specific antibodies that are directed against components of the virus cover and in this way bind to free cytomegaloviruses. Thus they are able to prevent the spreading of the infection.

Latest trials and case studies demonstrate encouragingly successful therapy outcomes. They indicate that the administration of CMV hyperimmunoglobulins reduces the possibility of a virus transmission to the foetus and thus the development of a serious disease. According to the current standard of knowledge, immunoglobulins are also well-tolerated by pregnant women.

Hyperimmunoglobulins have not yet  been approved for the prevention or treatment of unborn babys with congenital CMV infection. However, this treatment can be used under specific circumstances.

If necessary, please ask your doctor for more information. The companies Biotest AG and Abbott are currently preparing a study for the approval of the therapy with hyperimmunoglobulins during pregnancy. The aim of this large-scale study is to determine if this therapy as a regular treatment is able to reduce the damages caused by congenital CMV infection.

image: pregnant

image: infusion