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AZ: MWU Researcher Highlights Similarities between Zika Virus and CMV

February 12, 2016

by Office of Communications

In February, President Barack Obama asked the U.S. Congress for $1.8 billion to address growing concerns about the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne virus that can cause birth defects such as microcephaly. A Midwestern University faculty member is working to raise awareness of a very similar virus that is far wider-reaching than Zika and is responsible for many more permanent disabilities and deaths.

Kathleen Muldoon, Ph.D. (AZCOM), Assistant Professor, Anatomy, is currently studying congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV). "CMV was discovered in 1956 by the same team that discovered polio, mumps, and rubella, and it has been studied scientifically since that time," she says. "Even so, my research demonstrates that a vast discrepancy exists between CMV awareness and CMV incidence - even among healthcare professionals."

Like the Zika virus, CMV causes congenital birth defects and permanent damage such as microcephaly, hearing and vision loss, and seizures. But while only 17 of the approximately 400 confirmed microcephaly cases in Brazil have been linked to the Zika virus, cytomegalovirus causes an estimated 400 deaths per year and permanent disabilities in around 8,000 children, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While transmission factors differ between Zika and CMV - the former is largely transmitted through mosquito bites, while CMV is transmitted via bodily fluids of babies, toddlers, and small children - the similarities between the two viruses make it likely that Zika research will be based upon the existing corpus of CMV knowledge.

Dr. Muldoon's two-year-old son is affected by microcephaly brought on by CMV, which has driven her interest in promoting CMV education and community awareness. "Only 14 percent of women are familiar with CMV, and even then most cannot identify modes of transmission," Dr. Muldoon says. "This is true among medical students and health practitioners as well. I think this issue is very important and timely."

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