Pregnant women warned about potentially deadly cytomegalovirus

Pregnant women and women trying to conceive are being warned about a potentially devastating virus that can harm babies.

The cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection can cause newborn babies to be blind, deaf, have developmental problems - and, in severe cases, cause death.

But support groups say no one's even heard of it.

The birth of a child should be a delightful time - but for mother Awhina English, it came as a shock.

English's daughter was born with extensive brain damage, microcephaly, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. She says their lives have been hugely changed by it.

The conditions were caused by CMV.

The virus is typically harmless in healthy people - 85 percent of the population will contract it at some point - but for unborn babies, it can be deadly.

The first official recommendations for preventing CMV have just been released.

They say pregnant women should avoid sharing food, drinks or utensils with children under three, avoid putting a child's dummy in their mouth or kissing a child on the lips, and they should wash hands with soap and water after changing nappies, feeding children or when cleaning toys or other surfaces.

The virus is the main cause of disability from infection for newborn babies.

Kate Daly has been campaigning for recognition of CMV for seven years, after her twins were affected. She says the recommendations are bittersweet.

"That would have meant that William would have had a 50 percent chance of not having any disabilities at all."

In Australia, 2000 babies are born with congenital CMV every year. Of those, 400 will develop physical or intellectual disabilities - but in New Zealand, no statistics are available.

It's hoped these guidelines will bring more awareness and will mean more babies are born healthy and develop normally.