Hearing Problems Detected in Kids With a Little Bit of Spit

Filed under: In The News, Health & Safety: Babies, Health & Safety: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Health & Safety: Big Kids, Health & Safety: Tweens

Hearing Problems

Hearing problems can now be detected through saliva. Credit: Getty

Spit happens.

Don't knock it. You can learn a lot from a little bit of spit. Doctors may soon use saliva samples to tell if newborn babies have hearing problems.

Bloomberg News reports these samples can be used to detect an infection that is responsible for up to 25 percent of hearing loss in newborns.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham identified all babies infected with cytomegalovirus (CMV) using a wet saliva sample and about 97 percent when using a dried saliva sample. Their findings were just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Bloomberg reports one in 150 children born in the United States (30,000 babies all together) suffer from CMV, the most common infection passed from mother to child.

About 10 to 15 percent of those children will lose some or all of their hearing, pediatrician and lead study author Suresh Boppana tells Bloomberg, adding that the new study could help make testing for the infection routine.

"Most babies with CMV infection won't be identified at birth, unless you screen them for CMV infection, because they look like every other healthy baby," he tells the news service.

Some 20 percent of hearing loss at birth and 25 percent of hearing loss in 4-year-olds is due to CMV, Boppana adds. A screening test for CMV would cost about $2.50 to $3, he tells Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, in a separate study, researchers are currently looking at children with congenital CMV and monitoring their hearing every six months until they are 4 years old.

Bloomberg reports results from the study are designed to give doctors a better understanding of how CMV causes hearing loss, but they won't be available for several years.

"If our results confirm that congenital CMV is a major cause of hearing loss, then there's an impetus on the national agencies to think about considering making a recommendation that every baby needs to be tested for CMV," Boppana tells the news service.

Boppana and his fellow researchers took saliva samples from almost 35,000 babies in seven U.S. hospitals from June 2008 to November 2009. According to Bloomberg, some of the samples were stored in solution and some were air dried.

Then researchers compared their results with another test, called the rapid culture method.

Of 17,662 newborns screened with the saliva samples stored in solution, Bloomberg reports 85 were positive for CMV -- a 100 percent match to the rapid culture method.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders helped fund the study.

"It's important for us to develop diagnostic tools to screen babies for congenital CMV infection so that those who test positive can be monitored for possible hearing loss and, if it occurs, provided with appropriate intervention as soon as possible," James Battey Jr., the director of the institute, tells Bloomberg.

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