CMV: What You Can Do to Help Stop the Spread

CMV: What You Can Do to Help Stop the Spread

This article is for people who have cytomegalovirus (CMV) or are at risk for getting it, or anyone who's interested in learning more about CMV. The goal of this activity is to help people engage in shared decision-making with their doctor about CMV and how to help prevent its spread.

You will learn about:

  • What CMV is and how it can affect your body

  • People at a higher risk for complications (additional problems) from CMV

  • How CMV can spread and tips to help prevent the spread

  • Questions to ask your doctor

Test Your Knowledge

What Is CMV?

Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is a type of virus that commonly infects humans. Nearly 1 out of every 3 kids in the United States will have it by the time they're 5, and over half of all people by the time they're 40.

Once you have CMV, it usually stays dormant (inactive) in your body. But CMV can become active again if your immune system -- your body's natural defense system -- is weakened because of certain medicines, cancer treatment, a health condition like HIV, or after an organ, bone marrow, or stem cell transplant.

Types of CMV Infection

You may hear different types of CMV infection described as:

  • Primary: infected with CMV for the first time

  • Reinfection: infected again after a primary infection, but with a different strain (variety) of the virus

  • Reactivation: an earlier CMV infection becomes active again after lying dormant in your body

  • Congenital: a baby gets CMV before being born because of their mother's primary infection, reinfection, or reactivation during pregnancy

  • Perinatal: a baby gets CMV from its mother during birth or shortly afterward, including from breast milk

How CMV Can Affect Your Body

Most adults who get a primary CMV infection and have a healthy immune system don't know they have it because they have mild or no symptoms.

But CMV can sometimes cause complications (additional problems) in healthy adults, such as infection with a different virus, heart or brain inflammation (swelling), or digestive system problems.

People at a Higher Risk of Complications

People who have a weakened immune system -- especially because of an organ, stem cell, or bone marrow transplant -- can have serious symptoms and complications from CMV. CMV can even be deadly.

CMV can also cause serious complications for babies. Most will have no symptoms and can appear healthy at birth. But CMV may cause premature birth, low birth weight, hearing or vision loss, yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), and growth or learning problems. And some babies who look healthy at birth can develop complications months or years later. About 1 out of every 5 children born with CMV will have long-term health problems.

How CMV Is Spread

CMV is spread from person to person. The virus isn't found on its own in food or water, or carried by animals.

When CMV is active in your body, you can easily pass the virus along to others through your body fluids, such as blood, saliva, tears, urine, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.

Ways CMV can be spread include:

  • Direct physical contact, including sexual contact

  • During pregnancy or birth or through breast milk

  • Blood transfusions and organ, bone marrow, or stem cell transplants

Casual contact, such as hugging or holding hands, very rarely spreads CMV. But you can get CMV by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after having contact with the body fluids of someone who has CMV.

Are You Likely to Get CMV?

Anyone at any age can get CMV. But touching the body fluids of someone who has CMV, such as the saliva or urine of young children, is one of the main ways it spreads. This is why CMV can be especially common among small children and people who have a lot of contact with them, such as parents, babysitters, childcare workers, and teachers.

You're also more likely to get CMV if your immune system is weakened because of a taking certain medicines or having certain health conditions.

Tips to Help Prevent the Spread

You can help prevent the spread of CMV by practicing good hygiene, including:

  • Wash your hands often and well using soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds. Be sure to get your palms, backs of hands, and in between fingers. This can be especially important after wiping a young child's nose or mouth, feeding them, changing diapers, and touching toys

  • Don't share food, drinks, or objects you put in your mouth such as straws, cups, utensils, toothbrushes, or lip balm. Saliva can stay on some objects and may spread CMV

Samantha talks about her and her family's personal journey with CMV.

Tips to Help Prevent the Spread (cont)

  • Avoid contact with your child's tears and saliva by giving hugs or kisses on the forehead instead of on their cheek or lips. Don't put your child's pacifier, toys, or other objects they put in their mouth in yours

  • Clean frequently touched objects such as countertops, doorknobs, toys, and phones, especially if they come in contact with a child's urine or saliva

  • Be careful when handling soiled items and wash your hands carefully after using the toilet, changing diapers, using tissues, or touching items that have urine, feces, saliva, or other body fluids on them

  • Practice safer sex by wearing a condom during sex. And be sure to wash your hands after sexual contact

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Questions you can ask your doctor about CMV can include:

  • What should I know about CMV?

  • Am I or someone in my family at a higher risk of complications from CMV?

  • How can I help protect myself and others and prevent the spread of CMV?

  • Where can I find more information and resources?

Test Your Knowledge

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You have successfully completed the program: CMV: What You Can Do to Help Stop the Spread.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Congenital CMV Infection

About CMV

CMV Resources for Pregnant Women and Parents

Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives

PDF Downloads

Patient Handout

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Karen Badal, MD, MPH

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.

Disclosure: Karen Badal, MD, MPH, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development. Medscape, LLC.

 Disclosure: Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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