Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus that infects most people during their life. Most people are infected in early childhood. Usually there are no symptoms of CMV infection. Since most CMV infections are mild and usually do not cause long-term problems, most people don't even know they are infected. However, CMV can cause problems in a developing baby if the mother gets the infection during pregnancy.

After a person has a CMV infection, the virus stays in the body but is not active. The virus can reactivate months or years later, which occurs most often when a person's immune system is weakened.

CMV can cause problems in a developing baby if the mother gets the infection during pregnancy.

Anyone with a weakened immune system is at risk for problems with CMV infection. A weakened immune system can be related to infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or medical treatments. Medical treatments that can weaken the immune system include: chemotherapy, radiation therapy, steroids, and stem cell or organ transplantation.

Cytomegalovirus is only spread through contact with an infected person's body fluids, such as saliva, blood, urine, or breast milk. It can also be sexually transmitted. Regular handwashing with soap and water, particularly after changing diapers, can help prevent the spread of infection. Avoiding shared utensils may prevent spread, too.

A few people will have symptoms such as sore throat, fever, headache and fatigue. People who have weakened immune systems may develop severe symptoms, such as pneumonia or infections of the eyes, liver, or intestinal tract. People with HIV infection should be sure to let their doctor know if they are having any painless blurring of their vision, "floaters" in the eye, light flashes, areas of blindness, or shortness of breath.

Signs of CMV infection in newborns include a small head, rash, jaundice and failure to pass the newborn hearing screen. Babies with these signs may need to have their urine and blood tested to see if they have CMV infection.

Signs and Symptoms of Cytomegalovirus in Healthy Children

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

Treatment for Cytomegalovirus

An antiviral medication may be used to treat a cytomegalovirus infection in people whose immune systems are weakened or for transplant patients. These people usually need to be in the hospital. Newborns infected with CMV may benefit from antiviral mediation as well up to 6 months of life. Your child’s doctor may consult with infectious diseases doctors to decide if your baby would benefit from receiving antiviral therapy.

Healthy people infected with CMV usually do not need medication. In healthy people the body should be able to control the infection on its own, and the signs of infection are treated as they happen. Because CMV is a virus, antibiotics will not work against it and are not prescribed. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) may be given for fever, sore throat or headache.

Most children should get better in a couple of weeks after an infection. If your child is not getting better, call your child's doctor.