SALT LAKE CITY — A hearing and psychology specialist told a legislative committee Thursday that some pregnant women or those who are about to become pregnant should take precautions around young children, who commonly carry cytomegalovirus, or CMV.
CMV can be harmful to a fetus and cause birth defects, said Karl White, director of the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management and a professor of psychology at Utah State University.
"I don't think it is appropriate to take unnecessary risks," White said, noting specifically the parent volunteers who care for the thousands of young children each Sunday in local congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which groups children under 3 years old in nursery classes.
"It is preventable," said Sara Menlove Doutre, whose daughter lost her hearing due to CMV. Doutre said the virus she transmitted to her daughter in utero was most likely contracted from her son, who spends time in a church nursery group.
"It was likely from kissing him on the mouth or sharing a spoon with him," she said. "Had I known, I would've been much more careful about it when I was pregnant."
Doutre's mother, Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, is sponsoring HB81, which would implement awareness programs and testing protocol throughout the state to better prevent, detect and treat women and children with the virus.
"If a pregnant mother contracts and passes CMV to her baby, disabilities can result," Menlove said.
The virus is transmitted via direct contact with bodily secretions, including urine, saliva and blood of someone who is infected.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics reveal that nationally, one child is disabled by the virus every hour. Common defects resulting from virus transmission include brain damage and vision and hearing loss.
HB81 has successfully passed the Utah House of Representatives and now faces a final vote from the state Senate.
Hearing tests are already mandated for newborns in Utah, but the bill would provide additional support to the estimated 200 to 250 babies who fail a second test and might be candidates for antiviral treatment to prevent further disabilities.
White said increased education on the matter could prevent the incidence of CMV significantly and earlier identification of the virus can make emerging treatments available to affected families and children. He said the bill would put Utah at the forefront in the country on the issue of newborn hearing loss.