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Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

What is cytomegalovirus (CMV)?

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a virus related to the herpes virus group of infections. Like herpes, it is inactive at times, but it is incurable and is a life-time infection. CMV may be passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy and is the most common congenital viral infection. It is also called congenital cytomegalovirus or cytomegalovirus inclusion disease.

What causes cytomegalovirus (CMV)?

CMV without symptoms is common in babies and young children. It is found in saliva, urine, semen, and other body fluids. The virus is easily spread in households and in daycare centers. It can be transmitted to the fetus during pregnancy and to the baby during delivery or in breast milk.

Why is cytomegalovirus (CMV) a concern?

Over half of women of childbearing age are infected with CMV prior to becoming pregnant. There appear to be few risks for complications of CMV for this group and only a few babies have the infection at birth. These babies appear to have no significant illness or abnormalities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 to 4 percent of women have primary infections with CMV during pregnancy. With a first infection during pregnancy, there is a higher risk that after birth the baby may have CMV-related complications. About 10 to 15 percent of babies with congenital CMV will have signs of the infection at birth. Of these, about half will have serious complications including hearing loss, visual impairment, mental retardation, or epilepsy. Premature babies may be at increased risk for these problems.

Although CMV may be transmitted at delivery or through breast milk, these infections usually do not cause illness in the baby.

What are the symptoms of cytomegalovirus (CMV)?

Most babies with congenital (present at birth) CMV do not have symptoms of the infection at birth However, each baby may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Premature birth

  • Low birthweight

  • Liver enlargement and jaundice

  • Lung infection

  • Anemia

  • Hearing loss

The symptoms of CMV may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your baby's doctor for a diagnosis.

How is cytomegalovirus (CMV) diagnosed?

Most infections with CMV in the mother are not diagnosed because the virus produces few symptoms. A mother who has had CMV infection before may have antibodies present in her blood stream. The virus can also be cultured from the throat or urine of the mother or baby.

Treatment for cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Specific treatment for cytomegalovirus will be determined by your baby's doctor based on:

  • Your baby's gestational age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your baby's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Research is underway to find antiviral drugs that might be effective against CMV. Other antiviral drugs and immunoglobulins may be of help in certain cases.

Prevention of cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Although an infected person may transmit the virus at any time, proper hand washing with soap and water is effective in removing the virus from the hands. Research is also underway to develop a vaccine to provide immunity to CMV.