Cytomegalovirus (pronounced sy-toe-MEG-a-low-vy-rus), or CMV, is a common virus that infects people of all ages. In the United States, nearly one in three children are already infected with CMV by age 5 years. Over half of adults by age 40 have been infected with CMV. Once CMV is in a person’s body, it stays there for life and can reactivate. A person can also be reinfected with a different strain (variety) of the virus.
Most people infected with CMV show no signs or symptoms. That’s because a healthy person’s immune system usually keeps the virus from causing illness. However, CMV infection can cause serious health problems for people with weakened immune systems, as well as babies infected with the virus before they are born (congenital).
Signs & Symptoms
Most people with CMV infection have no symptoms and aren’t aware that they have been infected. In some cases, infection in healthy people can cause mild illness that may include
- Sore throat,
- Fatigue, and
- Swollen glands.
Occasionally, CMV can cause mononucleosis or hepatitis (liver problem).
People with weakened immune systems who get CMV can have more serious symptoms affecting the eyes, lungs, liver, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Babies born with CMV can have brain, liver, spleen, lung, and growth problems. Hearing loss is the most common health problem in babies born with congenital CMV infection, which may be detected soon after birth or may develop later in childhood.
Transmission and Prevention
People with CMV may shed (pass) the virus in body fluids, such as urine, saliva, blood, tears, semen, and breast milk. CMV is spread from an infected person in the following ways:
- From direct contact with urine or saliva, especially from babies and young children
- Through sexual contact
- From breast milk
- Through transplanted organs and blood transfusions
A woman who is infected with CMV can pass the virus to her developing baby during pregnancy. Women may be able to lessen their risk of getting CMV by reducing contact with saliva and urine from babies and young children. Some ways do this are: kissing children on the cheek or head rather than the lips, and washing hands after changing diapers. These cannot eliminate your risk of getting CMV, but may lessen your chances of getting it.
Blood tests can be used to diagnose CMV infections in people who have symptoms.
Healthy people who are infected with CMV usually do not require medical treatment.
Medications are available to treat CMV infection in people who have weakened immune systems and babies who show symptoms of congenital CMV infection.