Ethical and Public Health Implications of Targeted Screening for Congenital Cytomegalovirus

Congenital cytomegalovirus (cCMV) is the most common congenital infection and is associated with sensorineural hearing loss, developmental delays, and visual impairment. The clinical presentation of cCMV is variable, and the majority (80%–90%) of newborns will never manifest any clinical symptoms. Given the clinical heterogeneity of cCMV infection, it is challenging to identify which newborns may benefit from testing. Recently, certain states have implemented a targeted screening program in which newborns who fail the newborn hearing screen are tested for cCMV. Clinicians and legislative bodies have been propelled into debates about the ethical and moral permissibility of a targeted cCMV screening approach. Those who oppose this screening approach describe undue burden on patients, families, and the health care system because the majority of newborns who fail the newborn hearing screen and have cCMV will not go on to have any sequelae related to cCMV, including hearing loss. However, those who support this screening approach cite the importance of early detection and ongoing surveillance for hearing loss and developmental delays in this high-risk group of newborns. This debate will be considered by experts in the field.

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