New York, NY – Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan) today announced that her legislation requiring the state to develop and distribute informational materials on the dangers and prevention of cytomegalovirus (CMV) to childcare providers, physicians and pregnant individuals has been signed into law. CMV, a congenital virus, is the most common infectious cause of birth defects in the U.S., affecting about one out of 200 babies.
“Every year, over 300,000 babies are born in the U.S. with congenital CMV, a virus that can lead to deafness and significant developmental disabilities” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “Despite CMV claiming the lives of approximately 400 children each year, many expectant parents are unaware such an infection even exists. Increasing awareness of this virus and providing information to those who may become pregnant will ultimately save lives and spare children more devastating consequences.”
CMV is transmitted through direct contact with infectious body fluids, such as urine, saliva, blood, tears, semen, and breast milk. Infants born with CMV may suffer developmental disabilities, liver, spleen, lung, and growth problems, with hearing loss the most common long-term health problem. A pregnant person can pass CMV to the fetus following primary infection, reinfection with a different CMV strain, or reactivation of a previous infection during pregnancy. The legislation was sponsored in the State Senate by John Mannion.
The law is named for Elizabeth Saunders, a child born with microcephaly due to a CMV infection. Her mother, Lisa, was infected with the virus while working as a childcare provider during her pregnancy, and unknowingly passed the infection to Elizabeth in utero. Like so many parents whose children are infected by CMV, she struggled with the fact that she was never informed of the risk posed by the virus, and the simple steps she could have taken to keep safe.
Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal has led the charge to increase awareness of CMV. In 2018, she passed a law requiring New York State to test all newborns with hearing loss for the virus. Assemblymember Rosenthal is also the sponsor of legislation to establish mandatory reporting of all positive CMV test results in the state.
"Informing those most likely to be exposed to congenital CMV is a critical prevention and intervention strategy," said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal.“It is my sincere hope that Elizabeth’s Law will do just that.”
“As a former childcare provider unaware of my occupational risk for CMV, I couldn’t be more thrilled with ‘Elizabeth’s Law’ named in memory of my daughter. To know that all women will be given information to prevent the leading viral cause of birth defects, means that after 30 years of trying raise awareness, something is finally being done to prevent this heartache from happening to other families,” said Lisa Saunders, founder of NY Stop CMV and mother of Elizabeth Saunders.
“Expectant parents and caregivers of New York will be empowered to prevent the transmission of congenital CMV, the leading infectious cause of birth defects and infant brain damage, because of this legislation. Assemblymember Rosenthal's leadership, and the support of her colleagues in the Legislature, on this important public health issue will help ensure all infants have a healthy start to life,” said Dr. Sallie Permar, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine and Pediatrician-in-Chief at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical and New York-Presbyterian Komansky Children's Hospital.
"My daughter Samantha will never walk or talk independently because of a virus no one told me about. No one told me I shouldn't share drinks or food with my toddler while I was pregnant with my daughter. Or that I needed to wash my hands after every single diaper change. That I needed to be cautious of his saliva and urine because it could be carrying a virus that would harm my unborn baby. I didn't know because CMV isn't commonly talked about or educated on; even though it is more common than Down Syndrome," said Brandi Hurtubise, New York National CMV Alliance Chair.