Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common infection caused by a type of herpes virus. It can cause swollen lymph glands, fever, and fatigue. Most people with CMV do not show symptoms of infection and are not aware they have it. A CMV infection usually occurs in young adults. The virus then remains in your body for the rest of your life. It is often in a sleeping state but can be activated by stressful situations.
CMV infections rarely causes health problems except for people with compromised immune systems such as those with:
- Organ transplant
- HIV infection
- Immune suppressing medication
Babies who are not born yet are also at risk for congenital CMV.
The Lymphatic Organs
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The virus is passed between people through body fluids. CMV can be passed during:
- Sexual intercourse
- Changing the diaper of an infected infant
This virus is so common throughout the US that everyone is considered at risk for CMV.
People with the highest risk of getting this virus include:
Children and childcare providers in day care and preschool—due to frequent exposure to body fluids
People with suppressed or impaired immune systems
including people with:
The virus does not cause any symptoms when it is inactive. The virus may be activated because of stressful situations, medication, illness, or reduced immunity. Symptoms of the activated virus include:
People with suppressed or impaired immune systems can also develop:
- Colitis—inflammation of the large intestines
with ulcers and bleeding
- Retinitis—an eye infection that can cause blindness
- Hepatitis—infection of the liver
- Encephalitis—infection of the brain that can result in seizures or coma
CMV infection is not often diagnosed because the virus rarely produces symptoms. If CMV is suspected, the doctor may look for signs of the infection in blood or fluid samples. A biopsy may also be done on organs that are affected.
Most people infected with CMV will not need a specific treatment. Treatment may be needed if the virus is reactivated and you have a weakened immune system.
Antiviral medications may be used for people who have an organ transplant or suppressed immune system.
These medications do not cure CMV but can decrease the symptoms and duration of the illness.
While there is no definitive way to prevent CMV, there are a some measures that can decrease your chance of the infection:
- Wash your hands
- Properly dispose of diapers.
- Do not share glasses or eating utensils.
- Avoiding intimate contact with people known to have the CMV infection.
- Practice safe sex.
CMV infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
. Updated October 1, 2012. Accessed May 15, 2013.
Cytomegalovirus. American Association of Family Physicians website. Available at:
. Updated February 2010. Accessed May 15, 2013.
Cytomegalovirus and Congenital
CMV infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Available at:
. Updated July 28, 2010. Accessed May 15, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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