Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

The Cytomegalovirus, commonly abbreviated as CMV, is a virus of the herpesvirus family that can infect humans at any point in their lives. Once CMV enters the body of an individual, it remains for the duration of a lifetime. Most cases of CMV infection are completely asymptomatic. Unfortunately, CMV results in disease for babies still in the womb and individuals with a weak immune system.

CMV infection can be prevented by practicing good hygiene on a daily basis. Thoroughly washing your hands is an important part of staying healthy. Be cautious when engaging in prolonged intimate personal contact, particularly physical contact involving bodily fluids. Know the medical history of your sexual partners. Casual contact should not be a problem, even with people who are CMV positive because the chance of getting the virus via casual contact is unlikely. CMV infection can also spread to babies through breast feeding from an infected woman. Organ transplants and blood transfusions can also spread CMV.

Pregnant women are commonly infected with CMV from the urine and saliva of children. Pregnant women are advised to wash their hands frequently, especially around children, in order to prevent CMV infection. Young children are more likely to have CMV in their urine and saliva than older children and adults.

Symptoms of CMV, in the rare instances that they do manifest, include fatigue, swollen glands, fever, and sore throat. Such symptoms are often mistaken to be another illness, making CMV difficult to diagnose. When babies are born with congenital CMV, however, more severe symptoms and disabilities may manifest. Unfortunately, some symptoms end up becoming chronic.

Temporary symptoms of CMV include seizures, liver problems, underdevelopment at birth, spleen problems, lung problems, jaundice, and purple skin splotches. Disabilities and permanent symptoms caused by CMV disease include death, hearing loss, seizures, vision loss, lack of coordination, mental disability, and a small head.

In babies, CMV can cause growth problems, spleen problems, liver problems, mental disability, lung problems, bleeding problems, aside from hearing loss and vision loss. When symptoms show upon birth, it is more likely that CMV will be particularly severe.

It may take up to years for symptoms to manifest in children after their birth. Because it may take years for symptoms such as hearing loss and vision loss to manifest in children, it is important for babies born with CMV to be regularly tested for signs of vision and hearing problems. Congenital CMV is more likely to lead to permanent symptoms and disabilities. 

CMV can be diagnosed with a blood test. Lab tests can also be performed on urine samples or tissue samples from a biopsy. Serologic tests can also look for antibodies in the blood that have been formed against CMV.

When a woman becomes infected for the first time by CMV during her first pregnancy, a primary CMV infection occurs. This often results in congenital CMV. Approximately four percent of pregnant women who have no antibodies against CMV become infected. Of the four percent, a third results in infected fetuses. CMV seropositive pregnant women have a less than one percent chance of infecting the fetus. Out of infected infants, ten percent have symptoms at birth. Up to fifteen percent of infected infants with congenital CMV will develop symptoms over years.

If a woman gives birth to a baby with congenital CMV, the good news is that the women become immune to CMV. In rare instances, women have given birth to more than one baby with CMV. Pregnant women should wash their hands regularly, especially after interacting with children or their diapers. Avoid kissing young children under six on the cheek or mouth and do not share drinks, food, or silverware with them.

There is no special treatment for CMV infection. The prescription antiviral medications Ganciclovir and Valganciclovir have been known to help people with CMV who have weak immune systems. These medicines have severe side effects and should only be administered to infants if their congenital CMV is particularly extreme. Scientists are currently testing antiviral medicines for infants suffering from congenital CMV. There is research being done to develop vaccines for CMV as well.

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