Cytomegalovirus infection (CMV) is a common condition caused by a type of herpes virus. Once contracted, CMV stays in the body for the rest of a person’s life. Transmission occurs through direct contact with infected bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, semen, and urine. While the virus can also be spread to a baby through a mother’s breast milk, it does not usually sicken the child.
The majority of patients do not even realize they have been infected. CMV is unusual in that the infection typically stays dormant in healthy individuals and rarely causes any symptoms. Consequently, it is often left undiagnosed. However, there is reason for concern in people with a weakened immune system, as various complications can arise in both adults and children.
Newborns with congenital CMV and infants infected soon after birth are more likely to become ill than healthy adults.
Upon first becoming infected, healthy adults may experience symptoms similar to mononucleosis such as fever, fatigue, and muscle aches.
CMV is transmitted from person to person through the exchange of body fluids, such as urine, saliva, blood, tears, semen, breast milk and vaginal fluids. In this way, it spreads similarly to its near relatives: chickenpox, mononucleosis and herpes simplex. The virus has cycles where it’s alternately dormant and active, during which it can be transmitted to other people. However, when you are healthy, CMV is usually dormant.
You can contract the virus by touching your eyes or inside your nose or mouth following contact with the infected person’s body fluids. Common transmission methods include sexual contact, breast feeding, organ transplants or blood transfusions.
An infected mother often passes the virus to the baby before or during the birth process. If you have been recently infected, your baby is more likely to catch the virus than if you already had it and are experiencing a reactivation.
There is no cure for CMV and neither is treatment always necessary. In fact, it is generally not recommended so long as the patient is healthy and not showing any signs of illness.
However, when symptoms begin to appear, therapies vary depending on their nature and severity. Various antiviral medications help slow virus production, even if they cannot prevent the infection, so they are frequently prescribed by medical professionals. While there are studies being done to find one, no vaccine currently exists to prevent the CMV infection.
The main way to prevent CMV is through good hygiene. Wash your hands as often as possible, using soap and water and rubbing thoroughly for 15 to 20 seconds. Take extra precautions if you come into contact with children’s diapers, drool or other secretions.
Avoid direct contact with tears and saliva. You can kiss children on the forehead and hand them a tissue for tears or to blow their nose. Extra precaution is required if you are pregnant.
It’s a good idea to refrain from sharing food or a drinking glass with anyone else. This is a common way CMV virus spreads.
When you throw away diapers, tissues and any other items that contain bodily fluids, avoid touching your face until you thoroughly wash your hands. Constantly clean counters and toys that have contacted a child’s urine or saliva.
Practicing safe sex also prevents infection, so use condoms to avoid spreading CMV via semen or vaginal fluids. Meanwhile, if your immune system is compromised, consult with your doctor regarding antiviral medication to help prevent CMV.
Vaccines are being tested for women who can become pregnant. However, there’s no widely used vaccine to prevent CMV.