virus carried by hamsters and wild or lab mice that is not harmful to adults, but that can cause birth defects in unborn children whose mothers contract the virus. LCMV was first identified in 1933 in a woman who was thought to have a form of encephalitis. In 1955 it was first recognized in the united Kingdom as a virus that could cause congenital disease. Since then, individual cases of congenital LCMv infection have been identified in Germany, France, Lithuania, and across the united States.
Mice and hamsters are the primary sources of LCMv infections. Humans acquire this virus by direct contact with infected rodents or by inhaling the virus. So far, more than 49 infants around the world have been diagnosed with congenital LCMv. However, experts really are not sure how many infants have been affected by LCMv before birth because doctors do not routinely look at LCMv as a possible cause of congenital blindness or retardation. In one instance, twin girls from Cochise County, Arizona, were born to a mother who had unknowingly contracted LCMv during pregnancy. One girl was born with vision problems and the other has seizures and severe developmental delays. More than 90 percent of the babies who have contracted the LCMv virus before birth have had adverse effects, the most common of which were vision problems. Other problems include neurological conditions such as
CEREBRAL PALSY, MENTAL RETARDATION, SEIZURES, and decreased visual acuity.
A pregnant woman with a pet hamster should have someone else take care of it during the preg-
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