Can CMV Cause Cerebral Palsy?
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a major risk factor for cerebral palsy (CP), the most common form of permanent motor disability in children. CP results from damage to a baby’s developing brain during pregnancy, birth, or very early childhood. CP has a variety of potential causes, and scientists continue to research the role of different illnesses and injuries that cause the kinds of brain damage that can lead to cerebral palsy. Read on to learn how CMV can cause cerebral palsy.
What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a group of neurological disorders that permanently affect muscle coordination and body movements, balance, and posture and is usually diagnosed during infancy or early childhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CP affects approximately 3.3 of every 1,000 children. Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage or abnormalities in a child’s developing brain. In some cases of cerebral palsy, brain damage is sustained either during or after birth. In others, it is the result of abnormal development of the cerebral motor cortex while the fetus is growing inside the womb.
Infections and fevers during pregnancy are common risk factors for CP. When your body is fighting off an infection, it produces more cytokines. A cytokine is a type of protein that has an effect on the immune system. These proteins circulate through the blood and brain of your baby in pregnancy, causing inflammation. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common viral cause of CP.
What Is CMV?
According to the Mayo Clinic, cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus related to the viruses that cause chickenpox, herpes simplex, and mononucleosis. When first infected, some adults may have symptoms similar to infectious mononucleosis, including:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
Like similar viruses, CMV may cycle through dormant periods and then reactivate. If people are healthy, CMV generally stays dormant. Most people who are infected with CMV may never experience noticeable symptoms, either at first infection or during active flare-ups. When CMV is active in your body, you can pass the virus to other people through body fluids, and an infected mother can pass the virus to her baby before or during birth. The risk of transmitting CMV to your baby is higher if you become infected for the first time during pregnancy.
How Does CMV Cause Cerebral Palsy?
Certain infections during pregnancy, including viruses like cytomegalovirus (CMV), rubella, and chickenpox can increase inflammation, which in turn can lead to brain damage in a baby developing in the womb. While scientists are still conducting research to understand more about the origins of CP, we do know that there are a number of different risk factors that make a child more likely to be born with cerebral palsy—also known as congenital CP. According to the CDC, congenital CP accounts for between 85% and 90% of all cases of cerebral palsy.
While researchers are still learning more all the time about the connection between infection and CP, CMV seems to cause cerebral palsy in one of two ways—through maternal infection or through neonatal infection. One big factor seems to be the inflammation that results from cytokine storms and other similar immune responses, sometimes called fetal inflammatory response syndrome. This inflammation can cause brain damage that may lead to cerebral palsy.
CMV infection is symptomatic in nearly 10% of infected children, and these children are at a higher risk of developing severe neurological disorders like cerebral palsy. The following signs and symptoms are more common in babies who have congenital CMV and who are sick at birth:
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Enlarged and poorly functioning liver
- Purple skin splotches or a rash or both
- Abnormally small head (microencephaly)
- Enlarged spleen
One study compared 147 babies with CP to 148 babies without CP and concluded that the babies with CP had higher levels of intrauterine CMV infection. Additionally, the study found that of the babies with CP, those who had CMV infection displayed more severe symptoms. The researchers concluded that CMV infection is a major risk factor for CP and that CMV infection during pregnancy should be taken seriously and treated in order to reduce the disability of children with CP.
What Are the Signs of Cerebral Palsy in Babies?
There are four main types of cerebral palsy, and the symptoms can vary depending on the areas of the brain that are affected. One 2014 study conducted over children born with CMV infection showed that the majority developed bilateral spastic cerebral palsy. Other studies have shown maternal infections are involved in causing spastic CP, and neonatal infections may cause bilateral spastic and dyskinetic CP.
Cerebral palsy in children may manifest as a variety of symptoms, including:
- Muscle weakness in one or both legs
- A crouched or “scissored” gait or walking on the toes
- Ataxia, or a lack of muscle coordination during voluntary movement
- Spasticity, or tightness or stiffness of the muscles
- Shaking or other involuntary movements
- Delayed motor skill milestones
- Variations in muscle tone
- Seizures, intellectual disability, or abnormal perceptions of physical sensations
If you have noticed that your child has not hit typical motor skills development milestones, you may want to contact your pediatrician or family physician. The pediatrician may in turn refer you to a pediatric neurologist who specializes in diseases like cerebral palsy that affect the nervous system. Doctors can conduct a variety of tests, such as imaging tests like MRIs and brain scans or cranial ultrasounds, to diagnose cerebral palsy. While there is no known cure for cerebral palsy, supportive treatments, including surgery or medications in some cases, can help children and adults who have CP.
Patients with CP caused by symptomatic congenital CMV infection have a very high risk of having severe physical and cognitive disabilities. One study reviewed medical records from 1995 to 2011 and found 83% of patients whose brain damage was caused by CMV infection had severe symptoms of CP. Understanding the potential future needs of your child can help you plan for their long-term medical, rehabilitation, and financial needs.
Did Medical Malpractice Cause Your Child’s Cerebral Palsy?
When your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy and you believe the condition was caused by medical malpractice, such as mistreatment of CMV infection, you may feel confused about what to do next. The sooner you speak with an attorney about your case, the sooner they can start gathering evidence to determine if your parental instincts match the law’s requirements. Cerebral palsy treatments and support services can have a significant impact on your family’s finances. If you think >medical malpractice may be the cause of your child’s cerebral palsy, you might consider seeking legal help.
The Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC have consulted with over 30,000 families nationwide. We call upon our legal and medical experience to uncover the truth and recover the compensation families deserve. If your child suffered from medical malpractice that led to CMV and cerebral palsy, contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs today for a free, no-obligation consultation.
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant
Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO