CMV (Cytomegalovirus)

CMV (Cytomegalovirus)



Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a strain of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). CMV rarely causes serious problems in the average (otherwise healthy) adult, except in people with suppressed or impaired immune systems. Infants, whose immune systems are still developing, are more at risk of developing serious problems. Like other herpes virus infections, CMV is incurable; people are infected with it for life. Although the virus usually remains in an inactive state, it can reactivate from time to time.


In healthy adults, CMV usually produces no symptoms of infection. An infected individual, who does experience symptoms, may have mild cases of swollen lymph glands, fever, and fatigue. These symptoms are similar to those of infectious mononucleosis, but much less severe.


CMV is found in semen, cervical secretions, saliva, urine, and most other bodily fluids. It is highly contagious and can be spread by any form of body fluid exchange; including kissing and sexual touching. Day-care staff for children under the age of 3 are at increased risk of CMV infection and should carefully wash their hands after changing diapers or dealing with any bodily fluids. Fetuses can be infected with CMV during pregnancy if the mother becomes infected with the virus or develops a recurrence of a previous infection. Although most babies infected with CMV before birth do not develop any symptoms, CMV is the leading cause of congenital infection in the United States. Each year, thousands of babies develop life-threatening complications of congenital CMV infection at birth or suffer serious consequences later in life, including mental retardation, blindness, deafness, or epilepsy. If CMV is acquired after birth, or if it reactivates, it can be life threatening for persons with suppressed immune systems, such as those receiving chemotherapy or persons who have received immuno-suppressant drugs for organ transplantation. Persons with HIV infection or AIDS may develop severe CMV infections, including CMV retinitis, an eye disease that can lead to blindness.


The ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test is commonly used to detect levels of antibodies in the blood. However, no blood test is reliable enough for a confirmed diagnosis of a current CMV infection. Although CMV can be isolated from urine or other bodily fluids, it may be excreted months or years after an infection took place; therefore, isolation of the virus from bodily fluids is also a non-reliable method of diagnosing recent infection. There is no preventative CMV medication or vaccine that cures afflicted individuals of CMV.

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