It's official. Minnesota is set to become the first state to screen newborns for a serious, under-the-radar viral infection.
The condition is congenital cytomegalovirus, or CMV, and it's a leading cause of birth defects and developmental delays in American children, according to a review in Maternal and Child Health Journal. "However, only 13–22% of women in the United States have heard of CMV," the authors note.
Prompt diagnosis is critical, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), which estimates that up to 290 babies out of 65,000 born annually in the state have congenital CMV. Early detection may help affected children "benefit from antiviral drugs, therapies, and intervention of hearing loss (for example, sign language, hearing aids and cochlear implants)."
That's why the new congenital CMV screening is such an important step forward. As parents know firsthand, medical providers routinely check babies soon after birth for rare disorders. The includes a hearing test, a blood oxygen level check that can indicate critical congenital heart disease, as well as a "heel stick" taken from a newborn's heel. This blood test can detect more than 50 disorders.
Adding CMV to the list of conditions looked for promptly makes sense. On Jan. 28, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm signed an order directing the state's newborn screening program to take the steps necessary to start. The Minnesota Advisory Committee on Heritable and Congenital Disorders had previously met and recommended adding CMV screening.
It will take some months to launch the program as the health department staff validates testing, develops protocols and collaborates on clinical guidelines. The test "will be a dried blood spot method, but there are multiple test methods on dried blood spots for MDH to consider (each with their own pros and cons)," according to a state health official.
The Legislature also merits commendation. In 2021, a bipartisan group of lawmakers championed legislation spotlighting congenital CMV. The measure, known as "Vivian's Act," also called for the newborn screening advisory committee to consider adding CMV.
This important public health advance is a timely example of what political teamwork can accomplish. We'd like to see more conscientious collaboration like this in the 2022 session.