Using theory-based messages to motivate U.S. pregnant women to prevent cytomegalovirus infection: results from formative research

BMC Womens Health. 2017 Dec 14;17(1):131. doi: 10.1186/s12905-017-0482-z.


Background: An estimated 1 in 150 infants is born each year with congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV); nearly 1 in 750 suffers permanent disabilities. Congenital CMV is the result of a pregnant woman becoming infected with CMV. Educating pregnant women about CMV is currently the best approach to prevention. Limited research is available on how to effectively communicate with women about CMV. We conducted formative research on fear appeals theory-based messages about CMV and prevention with U.S. women. Fear appeal theories suggest that message recipients will take action if they feel fear.

Methods: First, we conducted in-depth interviews (N = 32) with women who had young children who tested positive for CMV. Second, we conducted eight focus groups (N = 70) in two phases and two cities (Phase 2: Atlanta, GA; Phase 3: San Diego, CA) with pregnant women and non-pregnant women who had young children. Few participants knew about CMV before the focus groups. Participants reviewed and gave feedback on messages created around fear appeals theory-based communication concepts. The following concepts were tested in one or more of the three phases of research: CMV is severe, CMV is common, CMV is preventable, CMV preventive strategies are similar to other behavior changes women make during pregnancy, CMV preventive strategies can be incorporated in moderation to reduce exposure, and CMV is severe but preventable.

Results: Participants recommended communicating that CMV is common by using prevalence ratios (e.g., 1 in 150) or comparing CMV to other well-known disabilities. To convey the severity of CMV, participants preferred stories about CMV along with prevention strategies. Participants also welcomed prevention strategies when it included a message about risk reduction. In general, participants said messages were motivating, even if they felt that it could be difficult to make certain behavior changes.

Conclusions: Findings from this research can contribute to future efforts to educate pregnant women about CMV, especially regarding use of fear appeals-based messages. Pregnant women may face certain challenges to practicing prevention strategies but, overall, are motivated make changes to increase their chances of having a healthy baby.

Keywords: Congenital; Cytomegalovirus; Fear appeals; Health education; Pregnant women; Qualitative research.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / congenital
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Motivation*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / prevention & control*
  • Pregnant Women / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology