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Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

What is cytomegalovirus (CMV)?

CMV is a fairly common virus that can infect almost everyone, but it rarely causes problems in healthy people. However, if present in pregnant women or people with weakened immune systems, CMV can be dangerous. A pregnant woman with an active CMV infection can pass it to her baby, who might then experience signs and symptoms. For people with weakened immune systems (especially because of organ transplants), CMV can be fatal. While it mostly affects young children, over half of adults in the United States have been infected by CMV by the age of 40. Once infected, the body retains the virus for life, but the virus isn’t constantly activated. Healthy people usually show no symptoms because their immune system keeps the virus from causing illness.

What are the symptoms of CMV?

Most healthy people with CMV experience very few symptoms, if they experience any at all. When first infected, they may experience:
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands
Newborns are likely to experience the following symptoms:
  • Hearing loss
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Yellow skin and eyes
  • Enlarged liver and/or spleen
  • Rash
  • Abnormally small head
  • Developmental delay
  • Vision problems
  • Pneumonia
  • Damage to the liver and central nervous system
  • Seizures
People with weakened immune systems are likely to experience the following:
  • Blurred vision
  • Blindness
  • Pneumonia
  • Painful swallowing
  • Diarrhea
  • Inflamed liver and/or blain
  • Other attacks on the eyes, lungs, liver, esophagus, stomach, intestines, and/or brain

What causes CMV?

CMV is caused by the human cytomegaloviruses (the salivary gland viruses). It is related to the viruses that cause chickenpox, mono, and herpes. You can lessen the risk of transmitting CMV by practicing the following:
  • Washing hands often
  • Reducing contact with saliva and urine from babies and children
    • Kissing children on the check or head instead of the lips
    • Washing hands after changing diapers
  • Avoid sharing food or drinks
  • Clean surfaces that have come into contact with children’s urine or saliva, like toys and countertops
  • Practice safe sex, like using condoms
CMV can be spread from human to human by a transfer of the following:
  • Saliva
  • Urine
  • Blood
  • Breast milk
  • Semen
  • From a pregnant mother to her child through the shared blood in the umbilical cord
  • Transplanted organs
  • Blood transfusions

How is CMV diagnosed?

After a thorough clinical examination, a detailed patient and family history, and a review of the characteristic symptoms of the disease, a CMV diagnosis can be confirmed using blood tests or a biopsy.

What are the treatments for CMV?

While there is no cure for the CMV virus, medications can help address symptoms. These medications could be:
  • Medications that keep the infection from getting worse, like ganciclovir and foscarnet
  • In the case of possible infection due to an organ transplant, administration of the medication cytomegalovirus immune globulin intravenous (CMV IGIV)

Where can I find out more about CMV?

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Articles