Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is a common virus that can cause swollen lymph glands, fever, and fatigue. Most people with CMV do not show symptoms of infection and aren’t even aware they have it.
CMV infection rarely causes health problems except for the following:
- People with compromised immune systems
- Babies in utero (not born yet)
A herpes virus causes CMV. The disease is transmitted by an exchange of bodily fluids with an infected person. Activities such as kissing, sexual intercourse, breastfeeding, and even changing the diaper of an infected infant can expose you to the virus.
The virus is found in:
- Vaginal fluids
- Breast milk
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. This virus is so common throughout the United States that everyone is considered at risk for CMV.
People with the highest risk of acquiring this virus include:
- Children and childcare providers in daycare and preschool
- Due to frequent exposure to bodily fluids that carry the infection
- People with suppressed or impaired immune systems
- Transplant recipients
- Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy
- People with HIV or AIDS
- Babies in utero
- Exposure can result in congenital CMV (congenital means the baby is born with the condition); approximately 1% of babies born in the United States have congenital CMV.
Generally, the virus remains inactive in the body and there are no symptoms. Occasionally, it is activated and symptoms occur. Reactivation of the virus can happen if your immune system becomes impaired due to medication or illness.
The symptoms are similar to mononucleosis, another herpes virus infection, and include:
- Swollen lymph glands
- Sore throat
People with suppressed or impaired immune systems can also develop:
- An eye infection that can cause blindness
- Chronic liver disease
Babies born with congenital CMV infection can have the following problems:
- Hearing loss
- Mental retardation
- Developmental problems
- Chronic liver disease
In contrast, infants who acquire CMV infection after birth rarely experience any symptoms or complications from the virus.
CMV infection is not often diagnosed because the virus rarely produces symptoms. If CMV is suspected, it can be diagnosed by the following methods:
- Blood test to detect CMV antibodies
- Antibodies are disease-fighting proteins in the blood
- Laboratory test of fluid samples
- Not all laboratories are equipped to perform this test
- Amniocentesis for pregnant women
- To check for signs of infection in the baby
Most people will not need specific therapy for CMV infection. Like other members of the herpes virus family, once you have this virus, you have it for life. Researchers are working to develop a vaccine to prevent the spread of this disease. For people undergoing organ transplants, AIDS patients and other individuals with immunosuppression, specific antiviral drugs, such as ganciclovir or valganciclovir may be used.
There is no definitive way to prevent CMV. Since transmission is common among children and providers in a childcare setting, it is important to wash your hands frequently and to dispose of diapers properly. Avoiding intimate contact with people known to have the CMV infection can also reduce your risk.