'Vivian's Bill' hopes to educate doctors, parents on cytomegalovirus

Cytomegalovirus is perhaps the most common virus you've never heard of--though an effort by Minnesota lawmakers hopes to change that.

The Centers for Disease Control say more than half of all American adults have the virus by age 40, oftentimes showing no symptoms or those similar to the common cold.

It's pregnant women with the condition, however, that should be wary, with doctors saying CMV often causes birth defects that can include brain damage--problems Leah Henrikson is all too familiar with.

Her daughter, Vivian, was born with hearing loss in her left ear due to CMV, leading doctors to perform several tests and eventually diagnose the newborn with Cerebral Palsy as well--all from a common virus that few people have ever heard of. 

Now, Henrikson has teamed up with state Rep. Kelly Fenton, R-Woodbury, to introduce a bill requiring the Minnesota Department of Health to educate both parents and doctors about CMV prevention and treatment, affectionately called "Vivian's Act."

In Vivian's case, quick detection soon after her birth led to immediate intervention with anti-viral drugs while she was still in neonatal intensive care, a key treatment both women want to make sure is available to everyone who needs it.

"We just feel that it's so important," Fenton said. "The sooner that we can get this information to care providers and mothers, the sooner that we can make a difference in these children's lives who will be born with CMV." 

To get off the ground, the bill is estimated to cost roughly $250,000 over the next two years--a number that requires the legislation to go through committee hearings in the house, the first of which is Thursday.

Vivian, meanwhile, is adapting to her condition, and while she still suffers from hearing loss her family is just glad it doesn't seem to be getting any worse.

 "And as I watch her live the daily life of living of living with CMV, it's doctor's appointments, it's therapist appointments," Henrikson said. "She's got this."

CMV Info Sheet
Source: CDC.gov

Cytomegalovirus is a common virus that infects people of all ages. In the United States, nearly one in three children are already infected with CMV by age 5 years. Over half of adults by age 40 have been infected with CMV. Once CMV is in a person’s body, it stays there for life and can reactivate. A person can also be reinfected with a different strain of the virus.

Most people infected with CMV show no signs or symptoms. That’s because a healthy person’s immune system usually keeps the virus from causing illness. However, CMV infection can cause serious health problems for people with weakened immune systems, as well as babies infected with the virus before they are born (congenital CMV).

Signs & Symptoms

Most people with CMV infection have no symptoms and aren’t aware that they have been infected. In some cases, infection in healthy people can cause mild illness that may include

Sore throat,
Fatigue, and
Swollen glands.
Occasionally, CMV can cause mononucleosis or hepatitis (liver problem).

People with weakened immune systems who get CMV can have more serious symptoms affecting the eyes, lungs, liver, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Babies born with CMV can have brain, liver, spleen, lung, and growth problems. Hearing loss is the most common health problem in babies born with congenital CMV infection, which may be detected soon after birth or may develop later in childhood.

Transmission and Prevention

People with CMV may shed (pass) the virus in body fluids, such as urine, saliva, blood, tears, semen, and breast milk. CMV is spread from an infected person in the following ways:

From direct contact with urine or saliva, especially from babies and young children
Through sexual contact
From breast milk
Through transplanted organs and blood transfusions

A woman who is infected with CMV can pass the virus to her developing baby during pregnancy. Women may be able to lessen their risk of getting CMV by reducing contact with saliva and urine from babies and young children. Some ways do this are: kissing children on the cheek or head rather than the lips, and washing hands after changing diapers. These cannot eliminate your risk of getting CMV, but may lessen your chances of getting it.

Healthcare providers should follow standard precautions. For more recommendations in healthcare settings, see the Guide to Infection Prevention for Outpatient Settings.


Blood tests can be used to diagnose CMV infections in people who have symptoms.


Healthy people who are infected with CMV usually do not require medical treatment.

Medications are available to treat CMV infection in people who have weakened immune systems and babies who show symptoms of congenital CMV infection.

More information is available at https://www.cdc.gov/cmv/