It is a routine known to every mother.
Once the children are brought home from school, dinner must be served, leftover scraps from the children’s plates are hurriedly gulped down by hungry mothers and kisses are shared at bedtime.
But experts have warned pregnant women to avoid such seemingly unremarkable interactions with their children for fear they could pass a ‘stealth virus’ onto their unborn child.
For a little-known but common virus, CMV (cytomegalovirus), can be transmitted through children’s saliva – often found on part-eaten food and picked up through kissing – and infect unborn babies.
Scientists at St George’s University of London have cautioned pregnant mothers that the congenital virus may put babies at risk of cerebral palsy, deafness and developmental delay.
Mother, Gayle Book, 40, from Greenwich, told of her heartbreak after finding out her second son, Toby, had contracted CMV from her in the womb.
Toby, now four, is profoundly deaf, has cochlear implants to help him communicate, and cannot speak or eat without help. He also has mobility and development issues and has to go to a special needs school.
Mrs Book, who was forced to give up her job in finance to care for her son, told the Evening Standard: ‘It has changed my life,’ and added the lack of awareness about the virus was ‘insane’.
CMV affects around 1,000 babies every year and can cause severe disabilities. Approximately one in five babies with congenital CMV will have long term health problems.
Babies who are born with the infection but who do not show symptoms are still at risk of developing complications, such as deafness, later on in life.
While there is currently no screening or vaccine for the virus, medics at St George’s, University of London, hope the trial will raise awareness of the infection among expectant mothers.
It will see 400 mothers with a child under three years old watch an educational video highlighting the virus’ dangerous consequences.