Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is closely related to the viruses that cause chickenpox
and mononucleosis (mono). CMV infections
are very common, and most of us will probably have one in our lifetimes.
Most people infected with CMV have no symptoms or mild symptoms. In healthy kids,
a CMV infection is rarely serious. Any symptoms it does cause usually are mild and
temporary. But cytomegalovirus (site-uh-meg-uh-low-VY-rus) can cause problems for
an unborn child whose mother has the virus and for people with weakened immune
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of CMV?
The symptoms of a
CMV infection vary. Most babies infected before birth usually show no
symptoms after delivery. Those who do may have:
These babies are also at risk for hearing, vision, neurological, and developmental
Even babies without clear symptoms are at risk for congenital hearing loss. CMV
is the most common cause of non-genetic hearing loss at birth.
CMV infections that happen in kids after the newborn period usually don't cause
serious illness. But some kids may develop pneumonia,
hepatitis (inflammation of the liver),
or a rash.
Older kids and teens who are infected may have mono-like symptoms, including tiredness,
muscle aches, headache, fever,
and an enlarged liver and spleen. These symptoms tend to be mild and usually last
only 2 to 3 weeks.
CMV can cause serious infections in people who have had organ transplants or those
with weakened immune systems. In someone with AIDS
or HIV, CMV infection may involve the lungs,
nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, and the eyes, sometimes causing blindness.
How Long Does CMV Infection Last?
CMV does not always cause symptoms. If it does, how long they last can vary. This
depends on how the infection happens and the age and general health of the person
who has it.
For example, a serious CMV infection before birth may cause lifelong developmental
problems. But CMV infection in teens may last only 2 to 3 weeks and cause no lasting
Once a person has the infection, the virus stays in the body, lying dormant (not
active). It can become "reactivated" (come back) weeks or years later. In
people with very weakened immune systems (such as those with AIDS, or people getting
chemotherapy), the reactivated
virus may cause serious illness. Most people, though, will not get symptoms of CMV
Is CMV Contagious?
Yes. CMV can spread in a number of different ways. Anyone who has had a CMV infection,
even without any symptoms, can spread the virus to others. But this mostly happens
through close contact because the virus spreads through saliva (spit), breast milk,
vaginal fluids, semen, urine (pee), and stool (poop).
In the United States, about 1% of infants are infected with CMV before birth. This
happens because the mother had a first-time CMV infection or a reactivated infection
during her pregnancy. An infected mother can pass the virus to her child before, during,
or after birth.
The CMV virus also can spread in childcare centers or preschool settings, passing
among kids on contaminated toys or by direct contact.
CMV also can be found in blood products and donated organs, causing infection after
a blood transfusion or organ transplant. But preventive therapies
are done for organ-transplant patients, and blood banks have procedures to help to
prevent CMV from passing in blood products.
How Is CMV Diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose a CMV infection by testing fluid or a tissue sample from a person's
throat, pee, blood, or other body tissues or fluid. Blood tests also can look for
antibodies that are part of the immune system's response to a CMV infection. Sometimes
other tests are used.
How Is CMV Treated?
There's no specific treatment recommended for otherwise healthy kids with CMV infection.
But CMV infection can be serious and even life-threatening for:
newborns infected before birth
those being treated for cancer
kids with severe immune disorders such as AIDS
These people may be treated with
(IV) antiviral medicine, usually in a hospital. Oral antiviral medicine
also might be used at home after the infection is under control and no longer poses
a serious risk. These antiviral medicines can have serious side effects, so doctors
use them with caution, especially in children.
In bone marrow transplant patients,
the antiviral drug ganciclovir given in an IV can be helpful in fighting CMV infections.
In rare cases, CMV-immune globulin might be given before someone receives an organ
Can CMV Infection Be Prevented?
Currently, there's no vaccine to prevent CMV infection. Washing
hands well and often can help reduce the risk of infection. This is especially
women who might become pregnant
anyone who has close contact with children
It's also a good idea to not share eating utensils with young kids and to avoid
close contact with anyone who has the infection.
A mother who has a CMV infection shouldn't stop breastfeeding her baby. The benefits
of breastfeeding are believed to outweigh the risks of passing CMV to the baby, who
is unlikely to develop any symptoms if infected.