June is National Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Awareness Month. CMV is the most common infectious cause of birth defects in the United States. Most people have been infected with cytomegalovirus (CMV), but do not always experience any symptoms. Actually many adults in the U.S. have it in their body by the age of 40. If a pregnant woman is infected with CMV, she can pass it on to her developing baby.
What Is Cytomegalovirus?
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus. CMV spreads easily through an infected person’s body fluids. It’s related to the herpes virus, which can give you cold sores. If you have a healthy immune system that can easily control the virus, it usually doesn’t cause problems. Although, it can make people who have a weakened immune system sick.
What are the different types of CMV?.
- Congenital: meaning a baby has contracted it from the birth mother.
- Primary: which means the first time someone gets CMV. Usually, there aren’t any symptoms but some have experienced mononucleosis-like symptoms.
- Reactivation: refers to an infection that has been dormant and has become active again when your immune system is weakened. It can happen if you have advanced HIV, receiving treatment for cancer, or have had an organ transplant.
If you have CMV during pregnancy, you have a 1 out of 3 chance (33%) of passing it to your baby. About 1 to 4 in 100 women (1- 4%) have CMV during pregnancy.
CMV can cause problems for some babies. Babies who have congenital CMV may appear healthy at birth and develop signs over time. In some cases, it can go undetected for months or years after birth. The most common of these late-occurring signs are hearing loss and developmental delays. A small percentage of babies may also develop vision problems.
Babies born with CMV may experience:
- Premature delivery
- Be small in size or low birth weight
- Bruise-like rashes
- Yellow skin or eyes
- Swollen liver and spleen
- Small head (microcephaly)
- Hearing loss
- Liver inflammation (hepatitis)
Tips to help prevent CMV
- Do not share food, utensils, drinks, or straws
- Do not put a pacifier in your mouth
- Avoid contact with saliva when kissing a child
- Do not share a toothbrush
- Wash your hands
- If your partner has CMV – be sure to use a latex condom during sex
How is CMV treated during pregnancy?
If your blood test is positive for CMV, a healthcare provider can perform an amniocentesis (also called amnio). During this test, your healthcare provider inserts a thin needle into your belly to remove a small amount of amniotic fluid. Amniotic fluid is the fluid that surrounds your baby in the womb. A lab then tests the fluid for CMV. Your doctor may decide to do an ultrasound to see if there are any physical signs of the virus your baby may display. Currently, there is no approved vaccine for CMV.
Healthy children and adults generally do not need to seek treatment and can recover without medication. Newborns and people who have weakened immunity will need treatment when they’re experiencing symptoms. The type of treatment will depend on the symptoms. If symptoms are severe, antiviral medications may be prescribed. The medication is used to slow the reproduction of the virus, but can’t eliminate it completely.