What is CMV? The Virus You’ve Never Heard About

Familiar with cytomegalovirus (sy-toe-MEG-a-low-vy-rus)? Most people aren’t. Nonetheless, CMV is a common virus. Furthermore, it affects thousands of people of all ages every year. 

What is CMV?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

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

Would I know if I had it?

Not necessarily. If you’ve never heard of cytomegalovirus, 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. Many people don’t know about this virus because it tends to be relatively harmless to healthy children and adults.

Symptoms and Outcomes

For those with a healthy immune system, cytomegalovirus rarely causes problems. When mild illness occurs, symptoms include fever, sore throat, fatigue, muscle aches, and swollen glands. Many mistake it for the common cold or flu. However, once a person becomes infected, it remains in the body forever. Moreover, it can reactivate and reinfect with different virus strains.

For people with weakened or compromised immune systems, it can be much more serious. Cytomegalovirus can present itself as a mononucleosis-like illness. It can also attack specific organs such as the eyes, liver, and 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.

How to Avoid Transmission and Infection

Since CMV is so easy to contract, doctors everywhere stress the importance of prevention through awareness. We can spread it 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 a baby during pregnancy and from a donor to a patient through transplanted organs and blood transfusions.

Next, you need to know that good hygiene is the best prevention. 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.

Diagnosis

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.

CMV and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

Pregnancy can be one of the most beautiful and rewarding experiences in a woman’s life. It can also feel like one of the most stressful. Because so many factors affect pregnancy, mothers should minimize health risks when preparing for the months ahead. As many of you know, women should avoid the common factors that pose health risks during pregnancy such as alcohol, drugs, smoking, and age. However, many never heard of cytomegalovirus or CMV. CMV is a common, communicable virus that affects 50 to 80 percent of adults by age 40. In addition, CMV affects one in three children by age five. Although the symptoms tend to not show or appear mild in most people, CMV and pregnancy can cause serious issues.

Preventing CMV in pregnancy

A mother can pass cytomegalovirus in pregnancy through a new infection or reinfection with a new virus strain. Therefore, doctors stress the importance of prenatal or early testing for the virus. 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.

The cmv virus in newborns is known as congenital CMV. According to the National CMV Foundation, congenital CMV affects one in every 150 babies born each year. Furthermore, one in every five will develop permanent health problems. With as many as 400 infant deaths a year, we must continue to spread awareness of this preventable virus.

No mother wants to consider the consequences of passing on a virus on to her child. Many mothers assume they don’t have a virus considering they have no symptoms. However, we must stress its importance so mothers know the risks. Understand good hygiene is essential to its prevention. Simple hand washing is one of the best defenses against CMV. Plus, if other children exist, be mindful of contact with saliva on cups or toys and urine in diapers.

What if’s and treatment

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. 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.

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