There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of CMV or cytomegalovirus. But by the age of 40, up to 85% of Australian adults have been infected with this virus. CMV is common in early childhood and, while generally a mild virus, can have more serious implications for pregnant people contracting the disease.1
What is CMV?
CMV spreads through bodily fluids, for example, saliva, blood and urine. Healthdirect reports that CMV is most commonly spread through a child’s saliva2.
CMV is a common virus that can have no or mild symptoms. Often, symptoms of CMV are similar to other viruses, such as a fever, sore throat and swollen glands2.
During pregnancy, however, a woman who contracts CMV can pass it onto her unborn child, which may have ongoing consequences for the infant3. CMV can also be a serious illness for people with compromised immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy2.
CMV in the early childhood education and care context
It’s important to consider that CMV is most commonly transmitted from the saliva of young children, and people are most at risk of serious implications during pregnancy.
Educators focus on educating and caring for young children every day, and the nature of the sector's workforce is predominantly female. Given these factors, it’s important for people at all levels within an early childhood education and care service to be aware of CMV. Every service should have well-communicated policies in place to respond to it.
How to protect yourself and your team from CMV
As with most other infectious diseases, the best protection from CMV is good hygiene1. This includes:
Washing hands regularly and thoroughly, particularly after changing nappies and in other circumstances where you may have had contact with bodily fluids.
Wearing gloves while changing nappies.
Cleaning toys and surfaces regularly.
Not sharing food and drinks with children.
Policy responses to CMV
KU Children’s Services, which is celebrated for its progressive employment policies and culture, encourages staff members who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to discuss risks and preventative strategies with their doctor. Educators working in an infants’ room will be transferred to older children’s rooms. If they don’t wish to be transferred, they require a written statement from their medical practitioner.
If your service doesn’t yet have a policy for CMV, now is the time to initiate one. It's also time to start the conversation about CMV to ensure staff are aware of the disease and how it may impact them.
Jannelle Gallagher, Early Education Specialist at CELA, says that policy is important. But so, too, is a plan to ensure that the policy is communicated on a regular basis as part of a broader risk management approach.
“It’s important that we facilitate eduactors to be able to broach topics such as this in a safe environment to advocate for change,” says Jannelle. “Once the topic is on the table and has been explored, services can then implement change, including introducing the right communications. Policies should be clearly displayed, updated regularly and communicated with staff and families on a regular basis. This is particularly important at the moment in light of the increased number of new and casual staff joining services.”
Johanna’s experience with CMV
Educator Johanna was 28 weeks pregnant with her daughter when she learned she had CMV. While everything initially appeared ok, monitoring at 36 weeks revealed that her baby was showing signs of distress. Johanna was admitted to hospital, and a week later, her daughter was born by caesarean section. Johanna’s daughter suffers from hearing loss and developmental delays associated with her congenital CMV.
At the time of her pregnancy, the service Johanna worked at did have a policy on CMV. The policy was that pregnant staff should be moved to a room with children over the age of two. The policy also advised that all pregnant people should have a CMV serology blood test.
Unfortunately, Johanna says that she wasn’t made aware of this policy and hadn’t heard of CMV until she received her diagnosis. Johanna now advocates for all educators to be mindful of CMV and its risks.
NSW Government (January 2017) Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and pregnancy fact sheet.
Healthdirect (August 2022) Cytomegalovirus (CMV).
Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care (May 2019) Pregnancy Care Guidelines: Cytomegalovirus.
Worksafe Queensland (April 2017) Cytomegalovirus (CMV) in early childhood education and care services.
Joseph SA, Béliveau C, Muecke CJ, Rahme E, Soto JC, Flowerdew G, Johnston L, Langille D, Gyorkos TW Cytomegalovirus as an occupational risk in daycare educators. Paediatric Child Health. 2006 Sep;11(7):401-7.
Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council (June 2013) Staying Healthy: 5th Edition.
Balegamire, S.J., McClymont, E., Croteau, A. et al. Prevalence, incidence, and risk factors associated with cytomegalovirus infection in healthcare and childcare worker: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Syst Rev 11, 131 (2022).