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

By: Women's Care Staff

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.


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.