Health Library
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) in the Immunocompromised Patient

What is Cytomegalovirus (CMV) in the Immunocompromised Patient?

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a virus that commonly causes infection. CMV infection may cause flu-like illness or even no symptoms. Most adults and many children have been around someone with CMV. After a person has had a CMV infection, the virus becomes non-active in the body. It can reactivate months or years later. Reactivation of the virus most often happens when a person's immune system is weakened or suppressed.

People most likely to have a weakened immune system include those:

  • With acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
  • Treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or steroid therapy
  • Who have received an organ or bone marrow transplant

Causes of Cytomegalovirus

Cytomegalovirus can be spread by contact with most body fluids, including urine, stool, saliva, blood, tears or breast milk of a person with a CMV infection.

Before an organ or bone marrow transplant, both the patient and the donor will be tested for exposure to CMV as well as to other viruses. If the patient or the donor is positive for CMV, then the patient may be treated with a medicine to keep the virus from reactivating after the transplant.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms can vary and range from mild to severe. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen glands or lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rash
  • Difficulty breathing

Treatment of Cytomegalovirus

An antiviral medicine may be used to prevent or to treat a CMV infection for those patients with a weakened immune system or for transplant patients. These patients may need to be in the hospital or receive IV medicine at home.

Additionally, cellular therapy may be used to treat CMV in patients with a weakened immune system. Viral specific T cells (VSTs) have been successfully used to treat CMV (and other viruses) without the need for potentially toxic anti-viral medications.

It is very important to notify your child's physician as soon as symptoms start so that proper treatment can be started.

Prevention of Cytomegalovirus

Some ways to help prevent a CMV infection include:

  • Good handwashing, especially after changing diapers, as the virus is found in urine of a person infected with the virus
  • Avoiding contact with anyone who is obviously sick
  • Not sharing food, eating utensils, cups and/or bottles, as the virus is found in the saliva of a person infected with the virus
  • Avoiding crowds. You may be asked to keep your child away from crowds and out of school or day care for the first three months or during high-risk periods following transplant or during chemotherapy treatment. Please check with your child's physician for the specific amount of time to avoid crowds.
  • Not kissing, as the virus may also be passed along to someone through kissing or sexual contact.

Call Your Child's Doctor If:

Call your doctor if your child is experiencing:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches

Last Updated 11/2022

Visiting Cincinnati Childrens.

Cincinnati Children’s has primary care services at locations throughout Greater Cincinnati.