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Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

4-minute read

What is CMV?

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a very common virus in the herpes virus family. Around 1 in 2 people have been infected with CMV by young adulthood and up to 9 out of 10 people have been infected by 40 years of age.

CMV may stay in a your body for years without causing any problems.

What are the symptoms of CMV?

The symptoms of CMV can vary. Some people have no symptoms. Others might have symptoms such as:

Some people can become seriously ill. Most people who become seriously ill have problems with their immune system. This can include conditions such as HIV, being on chemotherapy or taking other medicines that suppress the immune system.

If you become infected with CMV while you’re pregnant, there is a small risk that your unborn baby will also become infected. This is called congenital CMV. The vast majority of babies with congenital CMV remain well all their life. A few develop long-term problems such as hearing loss, developmental delay and learning problems. The most common problem is hearing loss.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How is CMV spread?

CMV is transferred from person to person through body fluids. Most commonly, this is through a child's saliva. The virus is also found in other body fluids such as breast milk, blood, urine, vaginal secretions and semen. If you are pregnant, the virus can also spread to your unborn child.

How will I be diagnosed with CMV?

There are two tests that can check for CMV:

  • a test for the virus itself from fluids such as urine
  • a blood test for an immune response to the virus

CMV testing may be recommended for if you are pregnant and develop a viral illness, or if an ultrasound shows a fetal abnormality.

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What treatment will I need for CMV?

Most people recover from CMV without any special treatment. If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, see your doctor for advice.

How can I prevent CMV?

There is no vaccine available to prevent CMV infection.

If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, you should take precautions to avoid being infected with CMV. This can be difficult, as many young children carry the virus, and CMV is contagious. If you are pregnant and come in close contact with young children, the following steps may reduce your risks of catching CMV:

  • Wash and dry your hands after touching young children.
  • Wear gloves while changing nappies.
  • Wash your hands especially well after changing nappies or handling items such as toys that might have traces of saliva or urine.
  • Avoid sharing food or toothbrushes.
  • Take care when kissing babies to avoid contact with their saliva.
  • Clean toys or surfaces that might have come into contact with their saliva, urine or body fluid.

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Last reviewed: August 2022

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