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March 18, 2013

Expert explores why virus causes hearing loss in babies

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Most of us are infected with it at some point with no symptoms, but that's little comfort to the babies born with a symptomatic version, some of whom lose their hearing. It's cytomegalo virus or CMV, a common virus that infects people of all ages.

mix herpes virusThis relative of herpes viruses is mostly a problem for those whose immune systems are weak, including the old, people with HIV and those taking drugs that knock down immune defenses, as well as for fetuses and infants.

A mash up of studies puts the estimated number of babies born each year with a congenital infection between 20,000 and 40,000 (.5 percent of all births). Most children are fine, but a few lose their hearing, and even fewer suffer birth defects or die.

Shannon Ross, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics within the UAB School of Medicine, last year won a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to try to figure out which traits of which versions of CMV match up with symptoms. She talked with The Mix about how having a marker to tell which babies are most at risk would help researchers decide when treatment with antiviral drugs, which come with serious side effects, is worth it.

Click here to hear the full podcast with Dr. Ross.