Italian doctors report the first success at preventing pregnant women from spreading a dangerous virus to their fetuses, a problem that currently leads some women to choose abortion to avoid birth defects.
Several experts said the findings are promising but suspicious because the small study was riddled with flaws. They said doctors should not try the antibody treatment against cytomegalovirus unless a large and carefully planned study produces similar results.
Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, infects most people at some point, typically with mild symptoms or none at all. But it can harm or kill fetuses and is especially dangerous when women acquire it during pregnancy.
It spreads through sex and body fluids like saliva. It often infects children and their caregivers and is the most common infection among U.S. newborns, striking about 1 percent, or 40,000 babies each year, the Ap reports. Up to 20 percent of infected fetuses die before or soon after birth, or have severe damage, including small heads, abnormal brains, mental retardation, and liver and hearing damage. Others develop learning disabilities by school age.
In the study, Italian doctors injected highly concentrated antibodies to CMV into 31 women who became infected with the virus during pregnancy and whose fetuses were known to be infected as well. Only 3 percent had babies with CMV damage, compared with half of the 14 women who refused the treatment.
Results were analyzed by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
Riley and other experts said it is nearly impossible to tell what helped the babies because the women got different numbers and doses of antibody treatments and by different methods. AM