What Is CMV?

Cytomegalovirus, more often referred to as CMV, is a viral infection that can be so harmless among adults that it rarely causes illness with symptoms of body aches, fever, sore throat and fatigue. CMV is a commonly transmitted virus with over 200,000 cases in the United States per year. 

Although there are less common occurrences of CMC causing problems with the digestive system, liver, brain and nervous system in healthy adults; healthy people who contract the virus seldom show symptoms. Subsequently, CMV is an illness that can often be overlooked.

However, in infants, CMV can be deadly. It can also cause birth defects resulting in long-term disabilities. Additionally, CMV can be fatal to people suffering from weakened immune systems, particularly those who have had an organ, stem cell or bone marrow transplant. People with weakened immune systems who contract the CMV virus may experience serious problems with lungs, liver, stomach, brain, intestines, esophagus and eyes.

The CMV viral infection is spread through body fluids such as saliva, blood, semen, urine and breast milk, and pregnant women can also pass the CMV virus to their unborn babies in the womb. Most babies who have contracted CMV may appear healthy at birth, aside from possible low birth weight; may develop very serious symptoms over time. These symptoms can include and enlarged liver, poor liver function and jaundice, as well as pneumonia, an enlarged spleen, microcephaly (an abnormally small head), intellectual disability, muscle weakness, lack of coordination, seizures, hearing loss, vision loss and purple blotches or rashes on the skin. 

How CMV Spreads

The CMV virus can be transmitted to others when it is active within the body. Common ways CMV is passed along to other people is by touching the eyes, nose or mouth after coming into contact with an infected person, or sexual contact with an actively infected person. 

The Prevention of CMV

CMV is a serious cause of concern for pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems because once a person is infected with CMV, the virus remains in the body for life and most people don’t even know they have it. The CMV virus is related to herpes, mononucleosis and chicken pox – viruses that can lie dormant and re-emerge in cycles, which makes CMV even more cause for concern. 

Although taking antiviral medications may help those with weakened immune systems prevent CMV, there are currently no approved treatments or vaccines available for the prevention of CMV. Proper hygiene practices are the best defense against the CMV virus. So wash your hands well and often. Avoid sharing food and drinks with others. Carefully dispose of items containing bodily fluids, such as tissues and diapers. Avoid contact with tears and saliva. This is especially important for caregivers of children or the infirmed. Vigilantly clean areas that are exposed to body fluids – such as kitchens and bathrooms. Safe sex is also an important measure in the prevention of CMV.

Diagnosing CMV

Blood and other body fluid tests, as well as laboratory testing of tissue are utilized in the diagnosis of CMV.

As you might imagine, the diagnosis of CMV is extremely important in pregnant women and for those with weakened immune systems. Pregnant women who have already developed CMV antibodies possess a very small chance of a reactivation of CMV infecting their unborn child, but this is not the case for expectant mothers with new cases of CMV. In these instances, an amniocentesis can be performed to determine if the unborn child has contracted the CMV virus. If your doctor suspects your baby has contracted congenital CMV, it is important to test your infant within the first three weeks to determine if there is any damage to the organs.

The Treatment of CMV (or Lack thereof)

Although there is no known cure for CMV, treatment is typically unnecessary for healthy adults as they generally recover without medication. Treatment IS, however, recommended for newborns and people with weakened immune systems who experience symptoms of CMV. The type depends on the symptoms present and the severity of those symptoms. Antiviral medications are the most common form of CMV treatment. These will not eliminate the incurable virus, but may help to slow its progression.

It is important to see a doctor if you have a weakened immune system and you are experiencing symptoms of a CMV infection or if you experience mononucleosis-like symptoms while you are pregnant. You should take your infant to a doctor for possible hearing and vision loss issues or any other CMV symptom-related concerns; or if you know you were infected with the CMV virus while you were pregnant.

How We Can Become the Generation that Beats CMV?

The highly experienced researchers and medical professionals at Velocity Clinical Research are currently conducting Moderna-sponsored clinical trials with the goal of developing a new vaccine that will prevent CMV. If you are interested in joining the fight against CMV by becoming a clinical research volunteer, please call 386-428-7730 Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Friday from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. to learn more and see if you qualify. Insurance is not required and you will be compensated for your time.