Cambridge consultant and mother raising awareness of little-known virus that can harm unborn babies

A mother whose daughter was born with cerebral palsy after she suffered extensive brain damage in the womb is bidding to warn other parents of a condition which can affect one in 100 pregnancies.

Hannah Head's daughter Orla, now three, developed cerebral palsy and has profound hearing loss because of human cytomegalovirus (CMV).

The virus is common in the herpes family and harmless most of the time, except for those with weakened immune systems and to a developing foetus.

Despite its serious implications, Ms Head said the risk was not mentioned once during her pregnancy - something she now wants to see change, so that other families can avoid the same devastating impact.

"You never expect it and it is grief," said Ms Head, of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

"Looking back, you go through the cycles of grief. Because to start with you're deeply sad - you are just so sad about it - and you're angry and you're worried.

"And you just don't know what's going to happen."

She is supporting a campaign by infectious diseases expert Prof Michael Weekes, of Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, who wants to raise awareness of CMV.

It affects around one in 100 pregnancies if the mother has the virus or contracts it during pregnancy and is now the largest infection cause of hearing loss and intellectual disability in children.

For those with a weakened immune system, it is a significant cause of disease or death.

Orla was diagnosed with CMV shortly after her pregnancy Credit: ITV News Anglia

Orla is a happy and much-loved little girl, but she does not speak, has severely damaged hearing and cerebral palsy.

Mrs Head contracted CMV during her pregnancy, and despite having two older boys, she and her husband say they never heard the virus mentioned.

More than three years on, it is still a source of pain to the family.

"It was a very emotional time because she was only about three weeks old and we were told she had very extensive damage to her brain and she was profoundly deaf in her right ear with moderate loss in her left," Mrs Head told ITV News Anglia.

"No one could tell us what would happen moving forwards. I mean what did that mean?"

Hannah Head says she had never heard of CMV until her daughter's diagnosis. Credit: ITV News Anglia

According to experts, around six in 10 people in the UK have CMV, which is carried lifelong.

But it can severely harm babies in the womb. Expectant mums are most likely to catch it from toddlers and young children, particularly their own.

How can you avoid the risks of human cytomegalovirus, or CMV?

While there is no vaccine and only a limited range of treatments available, Prof Weekes said parents could take simple precautions.

"The first is don't put anything in your mouth that has been in children's mouths like dummies or food, cutlery, cups," he said.

"Second, wash your hands if you come into contact with saliva or urine like when changing a nappy or wiping a child's nose or mouth.

"And the third is to avoid getting saliva in your mouth when kissing a child - so kiss on the head not around the lips."

An international online conference is taking place on Mother's Day, aiming to raise awareness of the condition and provide information on support.