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Pediatrics. 2006 Jan;117(1):e76-83. Epub 2005 Dec 1.

Neonatal cytomegalovirus blood load and risk of sequelae in symptomatic and asymptomatic congenitally infected newborns.

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Department Preventive Pediatrics and Neonatology, St Orsola Malpighi General Hospital, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy.

Erratum in

  • Pediatrics. 2006 Apr;117(4):1467.



Human cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a ubiquitous human-specific DNA virus and is the main cause of congenital virus infection in developed countries leading to psychomotor impairment and deafness. Diagnostic techniques for CMV detection have greatly improved during recent years with the advent of sophisticated serological and virological methods. The aim of the present study was to assess the diagnostic and prognostic value of detection and quantification of virus in neonatal blood samples of symptomatic and asymptomatic newborns with CMV congenital infection.


Between January 1997 and December 2003, we studied 99 newborns who were born to women with primary, recurrent, and undefined CMV infection during pregnancy. CMV congenital infection was identified by isolation of the virus in urine within the second week of life. Fifty-eight of 99 infants were infected and were assessed clinically for disease in the newborn period and classified as having symptomatic or asymptomatic infection on the basis of physical, instrumental, and laboratory findings. The infants were followed up from birth according to a protocol of the tertiary NICU at the University of Bologna in a prospective study of long-term sequelae of congenital infection. Forty-seven blood samples were obtained from 47 infants in the neonatal period: 34 were examined for pp65 antigenemia test and 44 for qualitative and quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR and qPCR). Sequelae at 12 months were evaluated in a group of 50 infants.


Antigenemia was positive in only 10 of 34 samples of infected newborns (29.4% sensitivity). PCR was performed in 44 samples of infected newborns and was positive in all (100% sensitivity). qPCR showed a finding of > or =100 copies per 10(5) of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNLs) in 39 of 44 samples; in the other 5 cases, the number of copies per 10(5) PMNLs was <100. Between symptomatic and asymptomatic newborns, the mean values of viral blood load determined by qPCR turned out to be significantly higher in symptomatic newborns. Mean values of neonatal blood viral load were statistically higher in newborns who developed sequelae than in those who did not. Of 20 children with a neonatal viral blood load of <1000 copies per 10(5) PMNLs, 19 did not develop sequelae (negative predictive value: 95%), whereas 2 of 3 with a viral blood load of >10,000 copies did develop sequelae.


Different viremia value ranges are correlated to a different risk of sequelae: approximately 70% sequelae were found in newborns with a qPCR higher than 10,000 copies per 10(5) PMNLs. Low neonatal viral blood load detected by pp65 antigenemia test and qPCR was highly predictive of absence of sequelae: DNAemia <1000 copies per 10(5) PMNLs has a negative predictive value of 95%. As an independent predictive factor of outcome, neonatal viremia is another useful element for neonatal counseling and therapeutic choices in symptomatic and asymptomatic newborns.

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