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Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a virus. Infection with it is common. Most people have no symptoms at all. For women who develop the illness while pregnant, there is a small risk that their baby will be born with a permanent disability.

What is CMV?

CMV is a very common viral infection, especially in young children. Most adults have had the infection at some point.

What causes CMV?

CMV is transferred from person to person through bodily fluids. Most commonly, this is through a child's saliva. The virus is also found in other body fluids such as breast milk, blood, vaginal secretions or semen.

CMV symptoms

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

Some people can get seriously ill. Most people who become seriously ill have problems with their immune systems, either due to a condition like HIV or due to being on chemotherapy.

If you are pregnant, CMV can causes problems for your baby. Most babies born to women with CMV are fine, but some will have disabilities.

CMV diagnosis

If you're worried about the possibility of having CMV, you can have tests. There are 2:

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

CMV treatment

Most people will recover well from CMV without treatment. Pregnant women or people with immune problems should see their doctor for advice about the risks and benefits of treatment in their specific situation. There are treatments, but they are still thought to be experimental.

CMV prevention

Women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should take precautions to avoid being infected with CMV from young children. If you are pregnant and come in close contact with young children, then:

  • wash and dry your hands after touching young children
  • wear gloves while changing nappies if you can
  • 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.

There is no vaccine to prevent CMV infection.

Sources:

NSW Health (Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Pregnancy), SA Health (Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection)

Last reviewed: February 2016

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