The Risks of Cytomegalovirus (CMV) to Infants

Published on: 06/27/2022

By Otto Ramos, MD
Director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease

Many people have never heard of the virus known as cytomegalovirus (CMV), even though more than 60 percent of people have it without knowing it. That’s because the virus rarely causes symptoms. One area of concern related to CMV, however, is in pregnant women and their newborn infants. CMV is the most common infectious cause of birth defects in the United States.

What You Need to Know about CMV

If you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that CMV can pose some risks to your unborn baby that you should be aware of. About six in every 1000 babies in the U.S. is born with CMV, and one out of every five of those babies with CMV will have symptoms or long-term health problems related to the virus. 

Some of the symptoms of CMV in infants can resolve over time with medical care, such as:

  • Low birth weight
  • Jaundice (yellow skin or whites of the eyes)
  • Rash
  • Pneumonia
  • Retinitis

However, other infants may have long-term health problems or disabilities due to being born with a CMV infection. These include: 

  • Vision loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Small head (microcephaly)
  • Seizures
  • Developmental and motor delays
  • Enlarged liver and spleen

CMV can also lead to pregnancy loss in severe instances.

Preventing CMV

Though complications related to CMV infections are rare, mothers and their families should still take proper precautions to prevent a CMV infection during pregnancy. CMV is spread through exposure to bodily fluids such as saliva, urine and blood. Other young children in the household can also be a common source for spreading CMV.

For these reasons, mothers and other family members should take proper precautions related to hygiene to prevent the spread of CMV. This can include frequent handwashing, particularly after changing diapers or using the bathroom, as well as washing clothes frequently. In addition, it’s a good idea to avoid sharing food, utensils or dishes with children or other family members.

Tests and Treatments

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, your doctor may recommend a blood test to check for CMV. If CMV is detected, a test known as amniocentesis can be used to collect a sample of amniotic fluid and then check it for signs of CMV. This and other tests such as fetal ultrasounds can help doctors detect any potential signs or issues related to CMV before your baby is born.

Some of the congenital conditions in infants related to CMV cannot be cured, but they can be managed with supportive care. Certain antiviral medications, such as valganciclovir, have been shown to improve hearing and developmental outcomes in some infants with CMV infections.

Patient Story

When Apollonia was four months pregnant, she received a call that would change her life forever. Her unborn baby girl was diagnosed with congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV), an infection with a wide range of symptoms including fever and fatigue to more severe symptoms that may affect the eyes, brain or other internal organs.

Read her story

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