What is cytomegalovirus?
Cytomegalovirus, also known as CMV, is a commonly occurring virus in adults and children. CMV is usually harmless and causes no lasting affects, or even illness in individuals who contract the virus after birth. CMV usually remains in the person’s body, live but dormant for the rest of their lives. This kind of CMV infection (as a result from previous exposure) is known as “recurrent infection.” The first exposure, however, is known as the “primary infection,” and is much more dangerous while pregnant than recurrent infection. If a pregnant women who has had no previous CMV exposure or infection contracts the virus while pregnant it may damage and harm her unborn child. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that half of all pregnant women have never been exposed to CMV, and between 1% and 4% will contract CMV while pregnant and of these women, one in three will pass the infection on to their unborn child, especially if the virus was contracted within the first twenty weeks of pregnancy.
How is CMV spread?
CMV, like many viral infections, is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person. Fluids such as saliva, tears, nasal mucous, urine, feces, vaginal secretions, breast milk and semen are capable of spreading CMV. It is possible to get CMV from touching any of these fluids, and then touching your mouth. For example, helping a young child wipe their nose, and later eating a snack where your fingers make contact with your mouth. One of the most common ways for a pregnant woman to contract CMV however, is through sexual contact with a CMV infected partner. It is advisable for a pregnant woman not to share eating utensils, drinks, or kiss others mouth to mouth that may be carrying CMV. CMV is especially prevalent among young children, and women working in daycares, schools or in situations where there are many children present should be especially careful to avoid exposure to bodily fluids of the children she cares for.
What are the signs of CMV?
There are usually no signs or symptoms of CMV infection in a pregnant woman, and the majority of the time, an infected newborn does not show immediate signs or symptoms of the infection and it may not be known that the child was CMV exposed until later in infancy, or early childhood when developmental delays, hearing, and vision issues may become more apparent. The only way to know whether a woman has CMV is for her to undergo a simple blood test. These blood tests are not routine, however, she may request one from her care provider if she has reason to suspect she may have been exposed to CMV.
How does CMV affect a newborn?
Approximately 1% of babies are born with a CMV-infection. Approximately 10-15% of CMV infected newborns have serious health issues at the time of birth. The remaining CMV-infected babies may not show immediate signs until later in infancy or childhood. These complications among the 10-15% of infants who have health issues related to CMV at the time of birth can include growth restriction, enlarged spleen, problems with the liver, seizures, low birth weight, central nervous system problems, an unusually small head, and a distinctive rash caused by bleeding beneath the skin.
CMV is fatal for up to 20% of infants born infected. The remaining infants who survive, are usually affected by the virus in other ways, such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and vision and hearing loss.
Can CMV be treated?
Currently, there are no approved treatments for CMV affected pregnant women and their unborn babies. Some studies however, suggest that an antiviral drug such as ganciclovir (used for the treatment of AIDS in adults and children) may help reduce the intensity of vision and hearing loss.
Are there ways to prevent contracting CMV while pregnant?
Sadly, there is no sure-fire way to prevent the contraction of CMV, however there are measures that can be taken to help reduce the risk of infection.
Wash your hands frequently and often. Good hygiene with antibacterial soaps, gels and lotions may help lessen the risk of exposure to CMV. Take special care to wash and scrub hands well, especially after contact with diapers, saliva, nasal mucous and other bodily fluids from others.
Do not share food or drinks. Avoid sharing eating utensils with others, as well as drinking glasses, as well as beverage bottles and containers.
Avoid kissing young children, especially under the age of six, on the mouth or cheeks. You can still hug them and kiss the top of their heads, however, avoid kissing areas where saliva may have spread, such as the cheeks and neck of a teething baby.
If you develop symptoms that are similar to mononucleosis, ask your caregiver to test you for CMV. When CMV does present symptoms, they are usually similar to that of mononucleosis; sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, congestion and fever.
If you are not in a monogamous and committed relationship, be sure to take precautions when engaging in sexual activity and practice safe sex by using condoms and avoiding oral sex unless protected using a dental dam or other oral barrier.
The Bottom Line
CMV can have potentially fatal affects on an unborn child and cause severe damage to the child if they survive. The best thing a pregnant woman can do if she is concerned about the risks of CMV is to request her physician order a blood test to determine if she has had a previous CMV infection or not. If she has, she has a “recurrent infection” which poses less risk to the unborn child than the “primary infection,” or first exposure to CMV does. Regardless of whether or not a pregnant woman has had previous exposure to CMV, she should practice good hygiene and avoid direct contact with the bodily fluids of others.
Cytomegalovirus Infections in Pregnancy
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Infection: American Pregnancy Association
CDC- CMV: Pregnant Women