CMV Infection
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CMV Infection

(Cytomegalovirus)

Pronunciation: sigh-toe-meg-a-lo-virus

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition

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)

The Lymphatic Organs

The Lymphatic Organs

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Causes

A herpes virus causes CMV. The disease is transmitted by an exchange of body 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:

  • Saliva
  • Tears
  • Blood
  • Urine
  • Semen
  • Stool
  • Vaginal fluids
  • Breast milk

Risk Factors

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 day care and preschool
    • Due to frequent exposure to body fluids that carry the infection
  • People with suppressed or impaired immune systems
  • 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.

Symptoms

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:

People with suppressed or impaired immune systems can also develop:

Babies born with congenital CMV infection can have the following problems:

  • Hearing loss
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • 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.

Diagnosis

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
  • Biopsy of the affected organ

Treatment

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, valganciclovir, or other agents may be used.

Prevention

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.

RESOURCES:

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Infection
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
http://www.cdc.gov

National Institutes of Health
http://www.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

HerpesGuide.ca (a member of the SkinCareGuide network of websites)
http://www.herpesguide.ca

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

References:

Cytomegalovirus. HealthLink Medical College of Wisconsin website. Available at: http://www.healthlink.mcw.edu . Accessed September 17, 2005.

Cytomegalovirus. International Herpes Management Forum website. Available at: http://www.ihmf.org . Accessed September 17, 2005.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://www.americanpregnancy.org . Accessed September 17, 2005.

Cytomegalovirus infection (Cytomegalic Inclusion Disease). Merck & Co., Inc. website. Available at: http://www.merck.com . Accessed September 17, 2005.



Last reviewed January 2008 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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