Conference Coverage

N.Y. hospitals report near-universal CMV screening when newborns fail hearing tests



– Over the past 2 years, Northwell Health, a large medical system in the metropolitan New York area, increased cytomegalovirus screening for infants who fail hearing tests from 6.6% to 95% at five of its birth hospitals, according to a presentation at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting.

Dr. Alia Chauhan

Three cases of congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) have been picked up so far. The plan is to roll the program out to all 10 of the system’s birth hospitals, where over 40,000 children are born each year.

“We feel very satisfied and proud” of the progress that’s been made at Northwell in such a short time, said Alia Chauhan, MD, a Northwell pediatrician who presented the findings.

Northwell launched its “Hearing Plus” program in 2017 to catch the infection before infants leave the hospital. Several other health systems around the country have launched similar programs, and a handful of states – including New York – now require CMV screening for infants who fail mandated hearing tests.

The issue is gaining traction because hearing loss is often the only sign of congenital CMV, so it’s a bellwether for infection. Screening children with hearing loss is an easy way to pick it up early, so steps can be taken to prevent problems down the road. As it is, congenital CMV is the leading nongenetic cause of hearing loss in infants, accounting for at least 10% of cases.

The Northwell program kicked off with an education campaign to build consensus among pediatricians, hospitalists, and nurses. A flyer was made about CMV screening for moms whose infants fail hearing tests, printed in both English and Spanish.

Initially, the program used urine PCR [polymerase chain reaction] to screen for CMV, but waiting for infants to produce a sample often delayed discharge, so a switch was soon made to saliva swab PCRs, which take seconds, with urine PCR held in reserve to confirm positive swabs.

To streamline the process, a standing order was added to the electronic records system so nurses could order saliva PCRs without having to get physician approval. “I think [that] was one of the biggest things that’s helped us,” Dr. Chauhan said.

Children who test positive must have urine confirmation within 21 days of birth; most are long gone from the hospital by then and have to be called back in. “We haven’t lost anyone to follow-up, but it can be stressful trying to get someone to come back,” she said.

Six of 449 infants have screened positive on saliva – three were false positives with negative urine screens. Of the three confirmed cases, two infants later turned out to have normal hearing on repeat testing and were otherwise asymptomatic.

These days, Dr. Chauhan said, if children have a positive saliva PCR but later turn out to have normal hearing, and are otherwise free of symptoms with no CMV risk factors, “we are not confirming with urine.”

Dr. Chauhan did not have any disclosures. No funding source was mentioned.

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SOURCE: Chauhan A et al. PAS 2019. Abstract 306

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