It’s the age of the pandemic, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned and been told time and again, it’s “wash your hands!”. Never before has the simple act of washing your hands been given so much importance. After all, if we can keep ourselves and our families safe to some degree by just following this simple routine, why not just do it. Handwash and hand sanitizers are inexpensive yet effective ways to lower the chances of transmitting germs and viruses.
But here’s what’s new — the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only reason why you should be washing your hands. Something else is lurking around the corner, adding to our already huge pile of woes. And the fact that pregnant and expecting mothers are at a higher risk of it makes it scarier. It’s called Cytomegalovirus or CMV in short (1). So, without further ado, let’s have a look at why you need to keep your hands clean and what this CMV is all about!
What Is Cytomegalovirus Anyway?
Cytomegalovirus is more common than you think. As the name suggests, it is a virus that is easily found and can be spread the same way every other virus spreads – saliva, blood, urine, breast milk, sweat, and bodily fluids exchanged during intercourse. What’s interesting is that once you get infected with this virus, you’re stuck with it forever. When you first get infected with the cytomegalovirus, the infection may occur in an active stage, but as it proceeds, it may go into a latent stage. You will either remain in the latent phase or, over time, it may get reactivated and lapse into its active stage
You might think that it is a rare virus that might not even reach you. But sadly that isn’t the case. More than 60% of adults in most countries in the world have been found to be infected with this virus. Fortunately for us though, the virus remains dormant for a large part of the infected population (1).
Cytomegalovirus And Pregnancy: A Cause For Concern?
The numbers are alarming — the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention says that you can easily pass the virus on to your child and that one in every two hundred newborn babies are infected with the cytomegalovirus. What’s more, one in five out of these infected babies end up with either congenital disabilities or long-term health issues and ailments (2). So is it a cause for concern during pregnancy? Yes, if the virus is in the active stage during pregnancy or childbirth, it can harm your baby. Unfortunately, there is no known treatment for this infection during pregnancy, so nothing can be done to prevent your baby from getting infected.
Symptoms Of Cytomegalovirus In Adults
Even though this medical condition is quite common, not many people know that they might even be infected simply because a majority of them show no symptoms. The virus remains in a dormant or inactive state for a majority of infected people. In many cases, the virus may inhibit the body without ever causing any problems at all.
Those who have just contracted the virus and are suffering from the infection when it is in the active stage may experience the following symptoms:
- Unexplained uneasiness
- Night sweats
- Swollen glands
- Sore throat
- Pain and stiffness in the joints
- Muscular pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Some people have a comparatively weaker immune system. In such cases, the virus might act more vigorously. In the presence of other infections, diseases, or any terminal conditions, the virus might pose more threat. The recurring nature of this virus further makes it difficult to ascertain how exactly it will affect the body. Some of the observed ways the virus affects people with the weaker immune system are:
- High and recurring fever
- Gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, gastrointestinal ulcerations, and gastrointestinal bleeding.
- You may also experience shortness of breath and lung issues like pneumonia and low oxygen levels in the blood.
- Eye problems such as blurred vision or floaters and, in extreme cases, even blindness.
- Inflamed liver issues and hepatitis
- Encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain, can lead to seizures, changes in behavior, and coma.
Symptoms Of Congenital Cytomegalovirus
Around ninety percent of babies infected with congenital cytomegalovirus don’t display any signs, but close to fifteen to ten percent of the remaining babies may end up with a hearing loss in the first six months of their life. If they show signs of being infected with the virus, they may show the following symptoms:
- Spots on the body, usually under the skin
- Rashes or purple splotches
- An enlarged liver or spleen
- Low birth weight
- Unexplained seizures
The above symptoms are usually noticed soon after birth. Some babies may experience problems in the later stages of their lives, and these include:
- Small head size
- Problems with vision such as irritation and swelling of the eyes, retina scarring, or vision loss.
- Learning difficulties
- Partial or complete hearing loss
- Seizures or epilepsy
Can Cytomegalovirus Be Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure or vaccine for the cytomegalovirus yet. But many of the symptoms can be managed with specific medications. What you can do, however, is prevent yourself from contracting it in the first place. Make sure you wash your hands regularly. Before you touch your child or anyone else’s, remember to keep your hands clean. If you display symptoms or know that you are infected, it is best to avoid contact that can transfer bodily fluids, so you don’t infect others.
You’re probably freaked out by now, but don’t worry. This condition is extremely common and is most often not fatal. Pregnant women and nursing mothers are the ones who need to be extremely careful, as babies can be affected. Take the necessary precautions and be mindful of personal hygiene. Talk to your doctor if you notice any signs. And don’t forget to regularly sanitize and wash your hands to lower any chances of transmission or contraction. What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments below!
- CMV Fact Sheet for Pregnant Women and Parents