M Physicians doctor Mark Schleiss is a leader in congenital cytomegalovirus (cCMV) research, and now his work has informed new statewide screening guidelines for newborns in Minnesota. 

On February 6, Minnesota became the first state to screen all newborns for cCMV. Research by Dr. Schleiss and his team at the University of Minnesota Medical School was a catalyst in bringing this idea to hospitals across the state. As part of the research, more than 12,000 newborns were screened at several different hospitals across the Twin Cities over the course of five years.

Dr. Schleiss’ team was able to find new and improved techniques to show that the dried blood spot — which is already taken at birth to test for more than 60 other diseases — can find cCMV infection with almost 90% accuracy. This discovery meant testing for cCMV could be done with no new test required.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work done at the University of Minnesota Medical School to pave the way for this work to become a reality and help families,” Dr. Schleiss said, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “My hope is that as pioneers in establishing newborn screenings, other states will be inspired to follow our example here in Minnesota.” 

cCMV is the most common infectious cause of birth defects in the United States. It occurs when the infection is passed from a pregnant person to their unborn baby and can cause a range of problems, including hearing loss. Officials estimate that up to 300 babies out of 65,000 born each year in Minnesota will have cCMV.

“Thanks to these screenings, we can help mitigate, prevent or plan for the virus’ most detrimental effects. Families will be able to be proactive as their children grow up so they can monitor their developmental milestones closely,” said Dr. Schleiss.

Dr. Schleiss is also a strong advocate for screenings on the legislative side. Along with a group of mothers, they fought for the MInnesota legislature to pass the Vivian Act to promote education, awareness, and early detection of cCMV. It became law in 2021, authorizing the Minnesota Department of Health to educate parents and their healthcare providers about cCMV.

“An important lesson I’ve learned through this process is the impact of grassroots movements,” Dr. Schleiss said. “Ordinary people can make a difference, and I’m proud that our tenacity and perseverance led to the passage of the Vivian Act.” 

You can learn more about Dr. Schleiss work at cmv.umn.edu.