Mystic mom raising awareness about potentially deadly virus

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — A passionate Connecticut mother is warning families about a common virus, which she got when she was pregnant.

Lisa Saunders of Mystic could not dedicate a lot of time to educate others about cytomegalovirus while she was caring for her daughter. Tuesday, she was on a mission to meet as many state legislators in the Legislative Office Building as she could to raise awareness about CMV, which left an indelible imprint on her family.

“It’s called a silent virus because for most people there are no symptoms for it,” said Saunders.

She contracted CMV while operating a licensed daycare with her own toddler in the center.

“I didn’t know that when she reaches up for a kiss that I need to miss her lips and just hit the cheeks so that I’m not getting saliva,” said Saunders. “I was in OB-GYN practices, six OB-GYN’s, and nobody warned me about this virus.”

Little did she know at the time that daycares are a breeding ground for CMV. 

“Different studies show between 44- to 100-percent of children under the age of two-and-a-half in daycare are shedding the virus,” said Saunders.

Cytomegalovirus is spread through bodily fluids like saliva, and pregnant women can pass the virus onto the unborn baby. Saunders’s daughter Elizabeth was born with severe birth defects.

“She couldn’t walk, she couldn’t talk, couldn’t crawl, couldn’t rollover, couldn’t feed herself,” said Saunders.

Now Saunders is working to pass House Bill 5525 to educate and empower others in Connecticut. State Representative Kevin Ryan co-introduced the bill.

“We do a lot of other tests when the child is newly born that we can see if there are any other problems that might be coming up,” said Ryan. “It seemed to make sense.”

Co-sponsor Cathy Osten is pushing passage in the Senate.

“How necessary it is for young children and their families and how inexpensive it is because that’s clearly something we are going to be paying attention to this year,” she said.

The poignant death of Elizabeth at 16-years old left Saunders wanting to do more.

“There’s a hole that never goes away and this is the only thing I can do for her now,” said a teary-eyed Saunders. “Make sure that I don’t keep getting these calls from moms and grandmas, ‘how come nobody told me?'”

Good hygiene, such as washing hands frequently after contact with saliva or diapers of young children, can reduce the spread of CMV.

About 1 in 750 children are born with physical challenges or develop them due to CMV infection. Most babies born with CMV, though, never develop symptoms or disabilities.

For more information about cytomegalovirus, click here.

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