House Bill 2754, introduced by Rep. Jeff Barker, would require medical centers to refer newborns who fail their hearing screenings to be tested for CMV.

A bill introduced in the 2017 legislative session would require hospitals and birthing centers to test newborns for a common virus that can cause Zika-like problems.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Northeast Portlander Amy Nelson is pushing for legislation that would mandate screenings for cytomegalovirus in newborns. The common virus can cause severe developmental problems in rare cases. Cytomegalovirus, called CMV, is a herpes-like virus that gives healthy adults and children a cold. But if a pregnant woman gets infected at the wrong time, she can pass it on to her fetus resulting in a small head, hearing loss or a spectrum of other neurological issues.

CMV has been given new attention as mosquito-borne Zika, which can have similar impacts to fetuses, rose to worldwide attention in 2015 and 2016.

House Bill 2754, introduced by Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Beaverton/Aloha), would require medical centers to refer newborns who fail their hearing screenings to be tested for CMV. The bill is currently in the Health Care Committee.

The Portland Tribune profiled a local family in July 2016 whose son born in 2002 is profoundly affected by congenital CMV. Amy Nelson, his Northeast Portland mom, has been involved in pushing for the legislation.

"I am passionate and dedicated to this bill being passed because if a newborn child has hearing loss," Nelson writes, "they (would) have to be referred to their health care provider for the purpose of diagnosing whether the newborn has CMV within 21 days of birth." She adds that this will improve understanding of the virus and also connect affected children to developmental services earlier in life.

There is also a drug, ganciclovir, that can improve symptoms and lessen the long-term effects but it must be administered to affected babies early on.

Nelson says researchers suspect that CMV is the leading cause of childhood hearing loss, but they need more information. Some babies with congenital CMV do not develop symptoms and others, even delayed up to age 4, do.

"If I would have known about CMV before or during pregnancy, I would have altered my behavior to prevent transmission to my unborn child," Nelson writes in an email, noting handwashing and other common disease prevention techniques.

According to the National CMV Foundation, six other states already have CMV-related legislation on the books, while several other states are considering action.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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