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"The anxiety coming up to every scan-It destroyed me": A qualitative study of the lived experience of cytomegalovirus infection during pregnancy.

Prenatal Diagnosis 2024 April 6
BACKGROUND: Emerging evidence supporting the use of valaciclovir to reduce fetal infection after maternal primary cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection has stimulated interest in routine CMV serological screening in pregnancy. It is important to understand the healthcare consumer perspective of a CMV infection during pregnancy to minimize unintended harms of screening.

METHODS: We conducted a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews with Australian women who had a lived experience of CMV infection following serological testing during pregnancy. Participants were recruited via social media and healthcare consumer networks, and purposively selected to capture a range of perinatal outcomes. Interview transcripts were analyzed using inductive content analysis.

RESULTS: Twelve participants were interviewed: 6 had a live birth, 4 had terminations of pregnancy, 1 had a neonatal death and 1 was pregnant at the time of interview. Four major categories emerged from the analysis. Women reported a lack of CMV awareness among themselves, their social networks, and among their health care providers. The participants described their experience as "hard" and "stressful". Uncertainty and variability characterized their clinical decision-making process. The pregnancy and postpartum periods were marked by ongoing anxiety about the long-term impacts of CMV. Women supported screening for CMV, decision making and reproductive choice, but acknowledged that routine testing may not be desired by everyone and may increase stress and terminations of pregnancy. Important coping strategies included obtaining support from partners, family, and other families with lived experience of CMV, as well as having access to knowledgeable and sensitive healthcare professionals.

CONCLUSION: Serological diagnosis of maternal CMV infection during pregnancy can have severe and prolonged psychological impacts on parents, regardless of the pregnancy outcome. Improving healthcare professionals' knowledge and public awareness are essential before widespread serological screening can be responsibly introduced. Healthcare administrators that are considering implementing a prenatal screening program for secondary prevention of fetal CMV infection should pay attention to consumer perspectives to minimize unintended harms to women and their families.

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