Viruses are microbes that need a host body to thrive. There are many kinds of viruses that have been discovered to date. They have been known to cause diseases like AIDS, influenza, measles, common cold, dengue, and chickenpox (1). One such virus that’s surprisingly common but unknown to most, is the CMV. For people with a weak immune system, infection from CMV can have dangerous consequences.
Statistics show that about one in every two hundred babies is born with a CMV infection. And one in five babies will suffer a long-term health consequence if infected by the CMV virus (2). Sounds scary? Read on to know more and understand how you can protect yourself and your baby from this virus:
What Is CMV?
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus that can affect anyone. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, over half the adults globally are infected with CMV by the time they turn 40. Also, pregnant mothers are at a greater risk of contracting this infection (2).
CMV is transmitted from one person to the other through body fluids like breast milk, tears, saliva, semen, urine, and blood. Once infected by CMV, the virus stays in the body lifelong. There are chances it may reactivate itself. People most likely to contract the virus are newborns, pregnant women, those infected with HIV, or people who have undergone stem cells, bone marrow, or organ transplants. The virus finds movement through the bloodstream and body fluids more convenient it seems. It is important to note that casual contact is unlikely to transmit CMV.
Pregnant women who suffer a CMV infection can pass it on to the baby through the placenta, and the baby may experience the symptoms of the disease. When newborns are infected before birth in the mother’s womb, they develop congenital CMV. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the virus. However, medications may help counter the impact of the virus to a great extent (3).
What Are The Symptoms Of CMV You Should Look Out For?
The symptoms of CMV may be severe. However, most people are likely to be asymptomatic, that is, showing no signs of the infection at all. Babies with congenital CMV may have to deal with developmental problems, issues with the brain and lung, and hearing loss (4). These problems may be detected at birth or may develop later in childhood. A healthy person infected with the CMV virus can display the following symptoms
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands
- Hepatitis (inflammation of liver tissue)
- Esophagitis (painful, difficult swallowing as a result of inflammation of the food pipe)
- Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
- Colitis (inflammation of digestive tract that causes ulcers and bowel disease)
- Muscle aches
What Are The Signs Of Congenital CMV?
Babies born with congenital CMV may never show signs of health issues. There are cases where they would grow up and for the entirety of their lives never have to face any problems. The virus in such cases lies dormant and doesn’t cause harm to the host body (5). But then, some babies will show symptoms of the infection which you need to be careful of. Some of the common symptoms of Congenital CMV are :
- Premature birth
- Small head (Microcephaly)
- Low body weight
- Retinitis or damage of the retina
- Intellectual disability
- Difficulty in coordination
In addition to the common CMV infection signs mentioned above, long-term problems associated with congenital CMV infection at birth include delays in motor skills and development and vision loss. Hearing loss may develop later even if the newborn passes a hearing test (5).
How Can You Lower The Risk Of CMV In Your Child And Yourself?
Young children are the most common targets of the CMV virus. So, those with frequent contact with toddlers and young kids are more susceptible to the disease than those who are not. By the age of five, CMV infection occurs among one in three children. Once infected, CMV may remain in your child’s body fluids for quite some time, even months (5). You cannot eliminate the chances but you can lessen the probability of contracting the CMV infection. So, if you are a mother to a young kid, here are ways in which you can ensure maximum safety for them and yourself:
- Reduce contact with the child’s saliva and urine. You can do this by not sharing food, straws, plates, or cups with your baby if either of you is infected.
- Wash and sanitize your hands immediately after changing your baby’s diapers.
- Avoid kissing your child, particularly if you or they experience symptoms.
- Avoid sharing a toothbrush with your child.
- Practice good hygiene by washing your hands and keeping your surroundings clean, including your baby’s toys.
- Get plenty of rest. A strong body is more equipped to fight infection.
- Use contraceptives while establishing intimacy with your partner. This can help prevent the spread of the virus through bodily fluids.
- Avoid touching your face, any surface, or people around you when doing away with disposable items. Wash your hands thoroughly.
As seen from above, it is clear that congenital CMV cannot be cured by the medical methods available in current times. So the best course of action would be to avoid contracting it in the first place. We have all seen firsthand how the spread of the virus can cripple our society completely. It can be safely assumed that reducing contact and exercising sanitization is the new normal in these times.
Visit your doctor immediately in case you notice some of the signs mentioned above. Complications arising due to CMV will vary depending on your medical history. The above symptoms may not necessarily point to a CMV infection, but an early diagnosis can save you the complications later. Also, check for mild sickness as that can indicate reactivation of the CMV lying latent in your body. Did you know about CMV earlier? Were you or your baby diagnosed with CMV during your pregnancy? Let us know in the comments section below!
- Common childhood viral infections
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Congenital CMV Infection
- About Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
- Cytomegalovirus infection in transplant recipients
- Babies Born with Congenital Cytomegalovirus (CMV)