Science on Tap: The ABC’s of a Most Common Infection: HCMV

Thursday, January 29 2009

Jan. 29, 2009 Written by Ken Kingery COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - It is the most common viral infection present at birth in the United States and causes one child to become disabled every single hour. Every year, 8,000 children suffer permanent disabilities due to this one virus. The virus is the Human Cytomegalovirus – or HCMV – and if you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. Even though 50 to 90 percent of people contract the virus by age 40 – most by the age of five - symptoms in healthy adults and children are no worse than a bad cold. But when introduced into an unborn child, the virus can cause hearing loss, sight loss and mental retardation. Scientists do not know exactly how HCMV infects a fetus, but they’re working to understand more about how HCMV interacts with its human host. One such scientist is Lee Fortunato, associate professor of microbiology, molecular biology and biochemistry at the University of Idaho. Fortunato will share her knowledge and expertise on HCMV and what is being done to fight it at February’s Science on Tap program. The presentation will begin at 5:30 p.m., on Tuesday, Feb. 10, at the Coeur d’Alene Brewing Company, 209 Lakeside Ave. in Coeur d’Alene. “HCMV is transmitted through saliva,” said Fortunato. “Because kids spit on each other, lick each other’s hands and kiss each other all the time, most people get infected as kids and never know it. And though healthy individuals can easily fight it off, it wreaks havoc in a developing fetus which essentially has no immune system.” Because HCMV is a member of the herpes family of viruses – like the viruses that cause genital herpes, cold sores and chicken pox – the disease stays with someone for life, flaring up due to high stress or poor diet. This situation can be magnified in a pregnant mother because her immune system is already suppressed. If the mother is infected for the first time, or if reactivation occurs and the mom has "lousy antibodies to the virus,” the results can be disastrous because the virus can reach the fetus. At Tuesday’s Science on Tap program, Fortunato will try to answer many questions that come to mind about HCMV: How is it that these viruses can remain in the human body for years while most are summarily kicked out? How does HCMV infect an unborn child and why does it affect its sensory systems and central nervous system so brutally? How can a pregnant woman reduce her risk of becoming infected for the first time? She also will talk about some of the ongoing research in her lab looking at the interactions of this virus with the critically important neural cells of the body. For more information about Science on Tap, call (208) 699-6240.
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About the University of Idaho Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit About the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research NWABR is a non-profit organization founded in 1989 to promote the understanding of biomedical research, and the applications and implications of that research. NWABR's member organizations include over 80 universities, research institutes and hospitals, voluntary health associations, professional societies and biotechnology organizations in Washington and Oregon. Our goals are to educate the Northwest community about the process by which research advances, and to empower citizens to make informed choices on issues related to biomedical research. For information about the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research contact Susan Adler, Executive Director, at (206) 957-3337 or About Idaho TechConnect Incorporated Idaho TechConnect Inc. (ITCI) is a science and technology-focused business development organization for start-ups and early stage technology ventures for the State of Idaho. ITCI helps identify resources that help improve the speed and probability of success for these ventures. Media Contacts: Ken Kingery, University Communications, (208) 885-9156,; or Laurie Hassell, Northwest Association for Biomedical Research, (208) 699-6240,

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit