Congenital Cytomegalovirus Symptoms & Causes

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In Depth

At Boston Children’s Hospital, we understand that you may have a lot of questions when your child is diagnosed with congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV).

  • What exactly is it?
  • What are potential complications in my child’s case?
  • What are the treatments?
  • Are there any possible side effects from treatment?
  • How will it affect my child long term?

We’ve tried to provide some answers to those questions here, and when you meet with our experts, we can explain your child’s condition and treatment options fully.

Background

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about .6 percent of babies born in the United States are infected with cytomegalovirus. Most of these babies appear completely normal at birth, but about 20 percent of them will develop symptoms as they grow.

The CDC also reports that 1 to 4 percent of women first become infected with CMV during pregnancy. With a first infection during pregnancy, there is a higher risk that after birth the baby may have complications related to the virus.

  • About 10 percent of babies with congenital CMV will have signs of the infection at birth.
    • Of these, over 90 percent will have serious complications including hearing loss, visual impairment, mental retardation or epilepsy. Premature babies may be at increased risk for these problems.

Causes

CMV without symptoms is common in people of all ages.

  • The virus lives in saliva, urine, semen, and other body fluids.
  • It is easily spread in households and in daycare centers.
  • It can be also transmitted from an infected mother to the fetus during pregnancy.

Symptoms

Most (up to 90 percent) of babies born with congenital cytomegalovirus experience no immediate symptoms; however, premature birth or abnormally low birth weight are possible signs of infection.

Some babies who appear healthy at birth may develop problems as they grow.These may include the following:

If you know your child was born with a CMV infection, make sure to have her hearing and vision checked regularly to monitor for any problems.

Long-term outlook

If your child is treated early, there should be no serious consequences of CMV. However, if treatment is delayed, your child may suffer some serious health problems as a result of the infection. For more information, see the Treatment and Care tab.

Questions to ask your doctor

Many parents are concerned about CMV and can have lots of questions about the condition and how it can affect their baby.

You may find it helpful to jot down questions as they arise—that way, when you talk to your doctor, you can be sure that all of your concerns are addressed.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Should I get tested for CMV?
  • What can I do to prevent infection?
  • I’m infected. Is there any way to prevent passing it on to my baby?
  • What steps can we take if my baby does get infected?
  • What’s the long-term outlook for a baby with CMV?

Prevention

CMV is a very common infection among people of all ages. Most people who have the virus don’t show any symptoms; however, they can still pass on the infection to others.

And while scientists are currently working to develop a vaccine to provide immunity to CMV, there is currently no vaccine and no cure for the infection. So prevention is the best treatment.

Here are a few tips for pregnant women to help avoid becoming infected with CMV:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water.
  • Avoid sharing food and drink with other people while you are pregnant.

FAQ

Q: What is cytomegalovirus (CMV)?

A: CMV is a virus related to the herpes virus group of infections.

Q: How common is CMV?

A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about .6 percent of babies born in the United States are infected with cytomegalovirus. Most of these babies appear completely normal at birth, but about 20 percent of them will develop symptoms as they grow. 

Q: Why is CMV a problem?

A: While most people infected with CMV have no symptoms (and don’t need any treatment), babies born with congenital CMV can have problems related to breathing, hearing and seeing as well as mental disabilities.

Q: Is there any way to prevent infection?

A: Although an infected person may transmit the virus at any time, proper hand washing with soap and water is effective in removing the virus from the hands. It’s also best to refrain from sharing food and drink with others while you are pregnant. Research is also underway to develop a vaccine to provide immunity to CMV.

Q: How is CMV diagnosed?

A: Most CMV infections in the mother are not diagnosed because the virus produces few symptoms. However, the virus can be detected using the following tests:

·  Blood test — checking for antibodies in the mother’s bloodstream

·  Swab culture — taking a sample with a cotton swab from the throat of the mother or the baby
·  Urine test — checking the urine of the mother or the baby

If you are pregnant and know that you’ve had CMV in the past or know that you’re currently infected, ask your doctor to perform a test.

Q: What symptoms might my baby have?

A: Most (up to 90 percent) of babies born with congenital cytomegalovirus experience no immediate symptoms; however, premature birth or an abnormally low birth weight are possible signs of infection.

Some babies who appear healthy at birth may develop problems as they grow.These may include the following:

  • jaundice
  • anemia
  • lung infection
  • vision problems
  • hearing loss

If you know your child was born with a CMV infection, make sure to have her hearing and vision checked regularly to monitor for any problems.

Q: What are our treatment options?

A: Here at Children’s, physicians in our Division of Infectious Diseases treats congenital cytomegalovirus in infants.

  • We treat babies born with congenital cytomegalovirus with a course of intravenous antiviral medication over a period of several weeks.
    • The most commonly used treatments for congenital cytomegalovirus are called ganciclovir and valganciclovir.

For more information, see the Treatment and Care tab.

Q: What is my child’s long-term outlook?

A:If your child is treated early, there should be no serious consequences of CMV. However, if treatment is delayed, your child may suffer some serious health problems as a result of the infection.

Q: What makes Children’s different?

A: Our physicians are expert, compassionate and committed to focusing on the whole child, not just his condition—that’s one reason we’re frequently ranked as a top pediatric hospital in the United States.

And at Children’s, we consider you and your child integral parts of the care team and not simply recipients of care. You and your care team will work together to customize a plan of care for your child.

Fetal-Neonatal Neurology Program
Learn more about our program for babies with congenital neurological conditions.
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- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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