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Are You at Risk for CMV?

Are You at Risk for CMV?

This article is for anyone at risk for cytomegalovirus (CMV) and people interested in learning more about CMV. The goal of this activity is to help you talk to your doctor about CMV and your risk.

You will learn about:

  • What CMV is and types of CMV infection

  • How CMV can affect the body

  • Who's at risk for CMV and its symptoms and complications (additional problems)

  • How CMV can spread and what you can do to help prevent it

  • Talking to your doctor about CMV and questions to ask

Test Your Knowledge

CMV Is Common in People

Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is a virus that commonly infects people. Nearly 1 out of every 3 children will get CMV by age 5, and over half of all people will by age 40.

Once infected, CMV stays in your body for your lifetime. It can go through periods when it's inactive, then may reactivate or become active again later.

For most healthy adults, CMV mainly stays inactive in the body. But it can become active again if your immune system is weakened from taking certain medicines or cancer treatment, having certain health conditions like HIV, or after an organ, bone marrow, or stem cell transplant.

Types of CMV Infection

CMV infection can be:

  • Primary: the first time you're infected

  • Reinfection: you're infected again, but with a different strain (variety) of the virus

  • Reactivation: an earlier infection becomes active again after being inactive in your body¬†

  • Congenital: a baby becomes infected before birth due to their mother's primary infection, reinfection, or reactivation during pregnancy

  • Perinatal: a baby becomes infected during or shortly after birth, including from breast milk

How CMV Can Affect the Body

Most adults who have a healthy immune system and get a primary CMV infection won't know because they'll have no symptoms or just mild ones like fatigue (tiredness) and a sore throat.

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

And CMV can cause serious symptoms and complications for people who have a weakened immune system and for babies.

Risk for Serious Symptoms and Complications

CMV can be serious and even deadly for adults and children who have a weakened immune system, especially when it's from a transplant. Complications from CMV can include vision, digestive system, lung, brain, nerve, and skin problems.

Most babies who have congenital CMV will have no symptoms when born, but serious complications can happen months or years later. Symptoms, when they do happen, and complications can include:

  • Premature birth

  • Low birth weight

  • Pneumonia (a lung infection)

  • Spleen and liver problems, including jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

  • Hearing or vision loss

  • Skin rashes or purple spots

  • A small head (microcephaly)

  • Growth or learning problems

  • Trouble with muscle tone and coordination

  • Seizures

CMV Can Spread From Person to Person

When CMV is active in the body, the virus can be easily passed to others through their body fluids such as blood, saliva, tears, urine, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.

This can happen during:

  • Direct physical contact, such as during sex

  • Pregnancy or birth, or through breast milk

  • Blood transfusions and transplants

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

Who's at Risk for CMV?

Anyone at any age is at risk for being infected with CMV. But it is especially common among small children and people who have a lot of contact with them, such as parents, babysitters, childcare workers, and teachers. This is because 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.

You're also more likely to get CMV if your immune system is weakened.

For babies, the chances of congenital CMV are greatest when their mother has a primary infection while pregnant. About 1 out of every 200 babies is born with congenital CMV.

Amanda Devereaux -- a registered nurse who specializes in maternal health, working with parents and parents-to-be -- talks about who's at risk for CMV and what you can do.

Talking to Your Doctor About CMV and Testing

Ask your doctor about CMV and testing, especially if you have symptoms and a weakened immune system or are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant. They may recommend a test to check for a past or current infection. If you're pregnant, they may also recommend certain prenatal tests to check your baby.

Babies can be checked for congenital CMV after they're born, but testing must be done before they turn 3 weeks old. If your doctor thinks you may have a CMV infection, your baby should be tested as soon as possible.

Ways to Help Prevent the Spread

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

  • Washing your hands often and well, especially after touching body fluids

  • Avoiding contact with your child's tears and saliva

  • Not sharing food, drinks, or objects you put in your mouth, such as straws, cups, utensils, or toothbrushes

  • Cleaning frequently touched objects, such as countertops, doorknobs, toys, and phones

  • Being careful when handling soiled items, like diapers or tissues

  • Practicing safer sex by using a condom every time

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About CMV

Questions you can ask your doctor can include:

  • Am I or someone in my family at risk for CMV?

  • What should I know if I have a weakened immune system or am pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or have a baby?

  • What should I know about getting tested or getting my baby tested?

  • How can I help prevent the spread of CMV?

  • Where can I find more information and resources?

Test Your Knowledge

Survey Questions

Congratulations!

You have successfully completed the program: Are You at Risk for CMV?

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

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Congenital CMV Infection

About CMV

Resources for Pregnant Women and Parents

Babies Born With Congenital CMV

Handwashing

Patient Handout

Authors and Disclosures

Faculty

Amanda K. Devereaux, RN, BSN

Program Director, National CMV FoundationBoston, MassachusettsDisclosure: Amanda K. Devereaux, RN, BSN, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Clinician Reviewer

Karen Badal, MD, MPH

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.Disclosure: Karen Badal, MD, MPH, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Editor

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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