Cytomegalovirus Can Affect Everyone, Including Newborns

No one is immune to cytomegalovirus (CMV). Just like herpes, cytomegalovirus remains in the body for life. In healthy individuals, no symptoms are present. Expecting mothers and people with weakened immune systems, however, are at greater risk for developing CMV. Women who are pregnant can become infected by cytomegalovirus and pass the virus to the baby through the placenta.

Congenital CMV is not common

Only about 0.6% of babies are born with congenital cytomegalovirus. That means that about 1 out of every 200 newborns are affected. 1 in 5 of those babies, however, will go on to develop long-term symptoms. Because signs of the disease are not always readily present, concerned parents should watch out for developing symptoms.

CMV can be transmitted through body fluids like blood, saliva, urine, tears, semen, and breast milk. For example, breast milk from an infected mother can transmit the virus. An infected mother can also pass the virus before or during birth.

From healthy to sick

Although most newborns with congenital CMV appear normal at first, babies may experience developmental issues months or years after, including hearing and vision loss as well as lung infection. Babies that are affected at birth experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Jaundice
  • Anemia
  • Liver problems
  • Pneumonia
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Unusually small head, or microencephaly
  • Purple skin spots

Prevention is crucial

Because CMV can be difficult to spot, the condition can also be difficult to avoid. While there’s no vaccine to make CMV go away, there are preventative methods to avoid passing the virus to the baby. Expecting mothers should ensure to wash hands thoroughly, avoid sharing glasses or utensils, practice safe sex, and avoid body fluids as much as possible.

Early treatment is best

Early treatment of congenital CMV can prevent consequences in the future. If a doctor determines that a pregnant woman has CMV, the doctor may perform a neonatal test by sampling amniotic fluid to see if the baby is also infected.

Monitor symptoms closely

Babies with congenital cytomegalovirus, including those without symptoms, should be monitored closely for developmental issues. Even mild symptoms should be reported. Regular hearing tests, for example, can stave off further damage. New medications and vaccines may offer the families affected hope for the future. Expectant mothers who are concerned about CMV can consult with a healthcare provider for prevention and treatment.