CMV: The Virus You May Never Heard Of … But May Already Have

Familiar with cytomegalovirus (sy-toe-MEG-a-low-vy-rus)? Most people aren’t. Yet, cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is a common virus that affects thousands of people — of all ages — every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • 50 – 80% of adults have been infected with CMV by the age of 40
  • One in three children are infected with CMV by the age of five
  • One out of every 150 babies are born with congenital CMV

Q: Would I know if I had CMV?

A: Not necessarily.

If you’ve never heard of CMV, you’re not alone. The National CMV Foundation says that only 9% of women have. With such a high infection rate, this number might sound incredibly low, but there’s good reason for the lack of awareness: CMV is relatively harmless and symptom free in healthy children and adults.

A virus with very different outcomes
For those with a healthy immune system, CMV rarely causes problems. When mild illness does occur, symptoms are cold-like and may include fever, sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches and swollen glands. However mild though, once a person is infected, it remains in the body as a lifelong virus that can reactivate and reinfect with different virus strains.

For people with weakened or compromised immune systems, CMV can be much more serious. The Mayo Clinic notes that CMV can present itself as a mononucleosis-like illness or it can attack specific organs such as the eyes, liver or stomach. In these cases, symptoms may include fever, pneumonia, behavioral changes, seizures and visual impairment or blindness, among other critical signs.

Equally concerning is the effect congenital CMV, as it is called when it infects a child before birth, can have on babies. Although outcomes vary by child, congenital CMV can have lasting and distressing results, including hearing loss, mental disability, microcephaly, cerebral palsy and feeding issues. We’ll explore congenital CMV further in our next blog post.

Another reason good hygiene matters
With CMV being relatively transparent in so many people, it stands to reason that transmission and prevention awareness is equally low. What do you need to know? First, CMV is communicable and is spread in a number of ways, including sexual contact and direct contact with bodily fluids, including saliva, urine, tears or breast milk. CMV can also be passed from a mother to baby during pregnancy and from a donor to patient through transplanted organs and blood transfusions.

Next, you need to know that good hygiene is the best prevention of CMV. Thorough and frequent hand washing, avoidance of utensil or cup sharing, and condom use during sex, all help reduce the spread of infection. You can read more prevention tips on the Mayo Clinic’s website.

A simple test
If you have exhibited CMV symptoms or are planning to get pregnant, a simple blood test can diagnose your exposure and risk. To schedule your test, contact a physician at Women’s Care Florida.

What you need to know about CMV and your pregnancy.

Pregnancy can be one of the most beautiful and rewarding experiences in a woman’s life — it can also be one of the most stressful. Because there are so many factors that can affect a pregnancy, minimizing health risks is essential when preparing for the months ahead. At Women’s Care Florida, we stress the importance of thorough prenatal care, encouraging you to begin regular health visits as soon as possible and as early as the planning stage.

You are probably aware of the more common factors that pose health risks during pregnancy — alcohol, drugs, smoking, age — but are you familiar with cytomegalovirus (sy-toe-MEG-a-low-vy-rus)? If you read our recent blog poston CMV, you know that CMV is a common, communicable virus that affects 50 – 80% of adults by age 40 and one in three children by age five. Although the symptoms tend to be nonexistent or mild in most people, CMV can cause serious issues for some.

A preventable virus

Because a mother can pass CMV to her baby during pregnancy through a new infection or reinfection with a new virus strain, prenatal or early testing for the virus is important. When found during an ultrasound, signs such as placental thickening, abnormality of amniotic fluid, or intracranial calcifications may also lead to CMV testing. For a complete list of screening signs, visit the National CMV Foundation website.

When a baby is infected before birth, the virus is known as congenital CMV. According to the National CMV Foundation, congenital CMV affects one in every 150 babies born each year, and one in every five will develop permanent health problems. With as many as 400 infant deaths a year, increased awareness of this preventable virus is essential.

No mother wants to consider the consequences of passing on a virus on to her child. That’s why it’s important to understand how “invisible” CMV can be, and how crucial good hygiene is to its prevention. Simple hand washing is one of the best defenses against CMV, and when there are older siblings, be mindful of contact with saliva on cups and toys, and urine in diapers.

What if …

As a parent, it can be difficult to deal with life’s “what ifs.” The outcomes of a congenital CMV infection vary widely. While many babies show no or mild symptoms, others can experience moderate or severe disabilities, ranging from hearing loss to cerebral palsy. However, some symptoms don’t appear until after the age of two. In order to be accurately diagnosed with congenital CMV, infants must be tested within two to three weeks after birth. Testing is simple and when symptoms are present, antivirals are used to decrease further risk.

What’s the best thing you can do now? Be aware, and remember, congenital CMV is both preventable and treatable. If you are pregnant or considering getting pregnant, get tested.

And if you have any questions about congenital CMV, speak with your doctor or contact an expert at Women’s Care Florida.