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Identifying Hearing Loss in Newborns May Help Language Development

A study finds that early identification of hearing loss in newborn due to a disease or physical abnormality by birth may help them in better language outcomes as they grow.

The study was published in the journal of Paediatrics.

Researchers from the University Of Utah in the U.S. found that implementation of a state-wide screening can pick up hearing loss in infants due to congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV).

CMV is a kind of herpesvirus which usually produces very mild symptoms in an infected person but may cause severe neurological damage in people with weakened immune systems and in the newborn.

An infant born with the infection often shows no symptoms or signs. Most of those infants do not experience any long-term effects.

But the virus can potentially damage the brain, eyes and inner ear.

"Our study demonstrates that policy changes such as the one in Utah that required CMV testing after failed newborn hearing screening can improve the identification of infants with hearing loss, even those without congenital CMV," said lead study author Marissa Diener

"This is important because timely identification of hearing loss can enable earlier intervention, which is linked to better language outcomes for children," Diener added.

The results indicate that all infants who fail two hearing screens, to be tested for CMV within three weeks of birth unless a parent declines the test.

By using that time frame, health providers are able to distinguish between congenital CMV and CMV acquired after birth, which is rarely associated with health problems.

"This result has major implications for all children who fail their newborn hearing screening since speech and language outcomes depend upon early hearing loss diagnosis," said another researcher, Albert Park.

"CMV infected infants with hearing loss may benefit from antiviral therapy," he added.

They assessed 509 asymptomatic infants, who failed hearing tests between 2013 and 2015 underwent CMV screening and the results of that screening.

The findings indicate that 62 percent of these infants were tested for CMV and three-quarters were screened within the three-week time frame.

Fourteen of those infants were CMV positive and six had hearing loss.

Of the infants who were tested more than 21 days after birth, seven were CMV positive and three had hearing loss.

The researchers conclude that because these infants had no signs of infection, it is "highly likely" they would not have been diagnosed later as having congenitally acquired CMV.

Identification of CMV-positive infants increased opportunities to watch their health more closely and intervene, when needed, more quickly.

They also found more infants received timely diagnostic hearing tests after the law took effect.