Cytomegalovirus: Symptoms, treatments, and types

Cytomegalovirus is a common herpes virus. Many people do not know they have it, because they may have no symptoms.

But the virus, which remains dormant in the body, can cause complications during pregnancy and for people with a weakened immune system.

The virus spreads through bodily fluids, and it can be passed on from a pregnant mother to her unborn baby.

Also known as HCMV, CMV, or Human Herpes virus 5 (HHV-5), cytomegalovirus is the virus most commonly transmitted to a developing fetus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 50 percent of adults in the United States are infected by the age of 40 years. It affects males and females equally, at any age, and regardless of ethnicity.

Symptoms

[woman with fever]
Fever is a symptom of acquired and recurring CMV.

The symptoms will depend on the type of CMV.

Acquired CMV

Most people with acquired CMV have no noticeable symptoms, but if symptoms do occur, they may include:

fever

night sweats

tiredness and uneasiness

sore throat

swollen glands

joint and muscle pain

low appetite and weight loss

Symptoms will generally go away after two weeks.

Recurring CMV

Symptoms of recurring CMV vary, depending on which organs are affected. Areas likely to be affected are the eyes, lungs, or digestive system.

Symptoms may include:

fever

diarrhea, gastrointestinal ulcerations, and gastrointestinal bleeding

shortness of breath

pneumonia with hypoxemia, or low blood oxygen

mouth ulcers that can be large

problems with vision, including floaters, blind spots, and blurred vision

hepatitis, or inflamed liver, with prolonged fever

encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, leading to behavioral changes, seizures, and even coma.

A person with a weakened immune system who experiences any of these symptoms should seek medical attention.

Congenital CMV

Around 90 percent of babies born with CMV have no symptoms, but 10 percent to 15 percent of them will develop hearing loss, normally during their first 6 months of life. The severity ranges from slight to total hearing loss.

In half of these children, just one ear will be affected, but the rest will have hearing loss in both ears. Hearing loss in both ears can lead to a higher risk of speech and communication problems later on.

If there are symptoms of congenital CMV at birth, they may include:

jaundice

pneumonia

red spots under the skin

Purple skin splotches, a rash, or both

enlarged liver

enlarged spleen

low birth weight

seizures

Some of these symptoms are treatable.

In about 75 percent of babies born with congenital CMV, there will be an impact on the brain. This may lead to challenges later in life.

Conditions that they may face include:

autism

central vision loss, scarring of the retina, and uveitis, or swelling and irritation of the eye

cognitive and learning difficulties

deafness or partial hearing loss

epilepsy

impaired vision

problems with physical coordination

seizures

small head

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Treatment

Scientists have been searching for a CMV vaccine, but as yet there is no cure.

People with acquired CMV, who are infected for the first time, can use over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), ibuprofen, or aspirin to relieve symptoms, and should drink plenty of fluids.

Patients with congenital or recurring CMV can use anti-viral medications such as ganciclovir to slow the spread of the virus.

These medications may have adverse effects. If there is extensive organ damage, hospitalization may be necessary.

Newborns may need to stay in the hospital until their organ functions return to normal.

Prevention

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