Parents expect to pass on their eye or hair color, their knobby knees or their big feet to their children through their genes. But they don't expect to pass on viruses through those same genes.
New research from the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that some parents pass on the human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) to their children because it is integrated into their chromosomes. This is the first time a virus has been shown to become part of the human DNA and then get passed to subsequent generations. This unique mode of congenital infection may be occurring in as many as 1 of every 116 newborns, and the long-term consequences for a child's development and immune system are unknown.
"At this point, we know very little about the implications of this type of infection, but the section of the chromosome into which the virus appears to integrate is important to the maintenance of normal immune function," said Caroline Breese Hall, M.D., professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and author of the study which publishes in Pediatrics this month. "With further study, we hope to discern whether this type of infection affects children differently than children infected after birth."
HHV-6 causes roseola, an infection that is nearly universal by 3 years of age. The typical roseola syndrome produces several days and up to a week of a high fever and may have variable other symptoms including mild respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms. With roseola, just as the fever breaks, the child may briefly develop a rash. A congenital infection of HHV-6 or one that is present at birth produces high levels of virus in the body but scientists (doctors) do not know whether it produces any developmental or immune system problems.
Some congenital infections can cause serious problems in fetuses. If a mother contracts cytomegalovirus (CMV) while pregnant, her fetus is at risk of hearing or vision
|Contact: Heather Hare|
University of Rochester Medical Center