What is CMV, or cytomegalovirus?

Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is a virus from the herpes family that produces no symptoms or mild cold-like symptoms in healthy adults and children. However, pregnant women and newborns are at a higher risk of having complications if infected. 

It is not a well-known virus in the community. The National CMV Foundation states that 91% of women do not know about CMV even though it is the most common cause of in-utero infections worldwide. 

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that roughly 50-80% of people in the United States will have the infection by the time they are 40 years old. It can infect people of all ages, including newborns. It spreads from close contact with bodily fluids from someone infected with CMV. Bodily fluids include:

  • Saliva
  • Urine
  • Breast milk

The virus stays in the infected person’s body for life and can reactivate any time. Most people don’t know they’ve been infected because they show no symptoms, but some people could have mild cold-like symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen glands

CMV in Women

The National CMV Foundation shares that while every pregnant woman is at risk of acquiring CMV, only 9% of women know about the virus. Pregnant women are at risk because the virus can cross through the placenta and infect your baby. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that doctors test for CMV in pregnancy because currently, those test results do not help protect infants from acquiring the virus.  Women who test negative for the virus can still acquire primary infection during pregnancy; women who test positive for the virus can have CMV reactivate during pregnancy. There is also no treatment that has been proven effective in preventing in-utero infection. 

CMV in Children

According to the CDC, nearly one in three children is already infected with CMV by the age of five. Most children will show no symptoms or mild cold-like symptoms and won’t need any treatment. 

CMV in Babies

Babies infected before birth have congenital CMV. It is the most common infectious cause of birth defects in the United States; about 1 in 200 babies are born with congenital CMV in the United States – approximately 20,000 babies annually. CMV is also the number one cause of non-genetic hearing loss in children. 

CMV Symptoms in Babies

Babies who are born with congenital CMV often show signs at birth such as:

  • Rash
  • Jaundice
  • Microcephaly (small head)
  • Low birth weight
  • Hepatosplenomegaly (large liver and/or spleen)
  • Seizures
  • Retinitis

According to the CDC, one out of five babies born with congenital CMV will have symptoms or long-term health problems. Some of these health problems include: 

  • Hearing loss (present at birth or develop later on)
  • Developmental and motor delay
  • Vision loss
  • Microcephaly
  • Seizures

How do I know if I have CMV?

Adults showing symptoms of CMV can get a blood test. Babies suspected of having CMV receive a urine or saliva test. Because CMV is the leading cause of non-genetic hearing loss in children, multiple states now require congenital CMV testing for babies who fail their newborn hearing screening.

Is CMV Preventable?

CMV is hard to prevent entirely, but there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of being infected. Some of these methods include:

  • Wash your hands – handwashing is the single most effective way to prevent CMV infection
  • Don’t share food, utensils, drinks or straws
  • Don’t put pacifiers in your mouth
  • Avoid contact with saliva when kissing a child
  • Do not share a toothbrush

By learning more about the virus and its impact on babies, you can help educate others about slowing the spread. For more information about CMV, visit NationalCMV.org.

Pregnancy and Childbirth Care at University Health

Get CMV care for yourself or your newborn at University Health in San Antonio, where we provide excellent mother-baby care at our Level IV Maternal Center.

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