Pregnant women can minimize their risk of becoming infected with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), an infectious agent carried by house mice// and other rodents that can cause severe brain damage in a fetus.
The risk of LCMV transmission increases in the winter months, when rodents seek shelter in homes, said Daniel Bonthius, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.
"Pregnant women should avoid contact with rodents, especially mice, or anything the animals have been in contact with," said Bonthius, who also is a pediatric neurologist with Children's Hospital of Iowa at UI Hospitals and Clinics. "Women in both urban and rural areas should be aware of the risks and take appropriate steps to protect themselves."
Bonthius said while field mice pose the most common risk, there have been instances of LCMV-infection involving mice and hamsters purchased at pet stores. In addition, there have been a few cases involving women who work with animals.
An estimated 10 percent of all people become infected with LCMV at some point in their lives. Most individuals have only mild, flu-like symptoms and recover fully. However, a developing fetus infected with LCMV can have brain damage, resulting in severe developmental delays, epilepsy and cerebral palsy.
An opinion letter by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the June 2006 issue of Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology noted that 54 cases of children born with LCMV have been reported since 1955, with 34 cases diagnosed since 1993. The article also noted that LCMV is underdiagnosed and that the virus likely causes some miscarriages.
"Cases of babies born with congenital LCMV are rare. However, because the virus can severely affect the developing fetus, it's important for pregnant women to take precautions," Bonthius said.
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