CMV: A-to-Z Guide from Diagnosis to Treatment to Prevention

CMV is one of the human herpesviruses. Usually the disease it causes is mild. However, CMV infections can be serious, especially if immunocompromised.

Introduction to CMV:

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is the most common infection present at birth.

What is it?

Like the viruses that cause chickenpox, shingles, roseola, mono, and cold sores, CMV is one of the human herpesviruses. Human herpesvirus-3, to be exact. Usually the disease it causes is mild. Nevertheless, in some children, especially those with AIDS or on chemotherapy, CMV infections can be very serious or even fatal.

Who gets it?

Cytomegalovirus occurs commonly worldwide. Babies are most likely to get it from their mothers. After infancy, children are most likely to get it in group settings such as day care centers. Sexually active adolescents are also at risk.

Recipients of blood transfusions can also get CMV infections.

What are the symptoms?

Most children with CMV have no symptoms. Some have mild CMV hepatitis (liver inflammation) or a mono-like illness. They may have fevers, rashes, headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue. Those with immune problems may have pneumonia or more serious infections.

Most newborns withCytomegalovirus appear to have no symptoms. Some turn out to have hearing loss or learning disabilities. Some have jaundice. A few are dramatically ill at birth.

CMV eye infections can occur at any age.

Is it contagious?

Yes. It is found in saliva, blood, urine, stool, breast milk, semen, and vaginal secretions. Because the virus does not survive easily outside these fluids, close contact is needed for transmission. It can also be transmitted on infected objects (fomites).

How long does it last?

The length of time that symptoms are experienced varies considerably, but 2 to 3 weeks is fairly typical. After infection the virus remains dormant in the body for a lifetime.

How is it diagnosed?

Cytomegalovirus is diagnosed by identifying the virus in a sample of body fluid.

How is it treated?

Antiviral medicines are among the medicines available to treat CMV infections. Antibiotics are not useful for treating Cytomegalovirus or other viral infections.

How can CMV be prevented?

Good hand washing and avoiding contact with stool and body fluids can prevent some cases of CMV.

If people at high risk of serious infections need blood products or organ transplants, it is important to use donors who do not have CMV.

Cytomegalovirus, HHV-3.

Last medical review on: August 21, 2013
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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