Cytomegalovirus Infection

What is cytomegalovirus infection?

Cytomegalovirus infection (CMV) is a condition which usually affects the respiratory tract. Cytomegalovirus is a common virus which, in healthy individuals, usually does not lead to any symptoms. However, people with weakened immune systems may become quite ill when infected with cytomegalovirus. The virus can spread through blood, saliva, or sexual contact. The main symptoms include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, muscle aches and a sore throat. Usually the infection heals on its own within 4-6 weeks, although people with weakened immune systems may need active treatment of the virus to prevent long-term complications.

Risks

Cytomegalovirus infection is very common. Almost everyone will be infected with the cytomegalovirus at some point in their life, usually as a child, though it is possible to contract the virus for the first time as an adult. The virus stays in the body after infection and may reactivate if the immune system becomes weak. People with medical conditions (eg. HIV/AIDS, leukemia) or who take medications which cause immune problems (eg. after an organ transplant) are at risk of a recurrence of the virus and severe symptoms. Pregnant women who have never had CMV are at risk of passing the virus to the unborn child.

Symptoms

Typical symptoms include fever, feeling generally unwell, a loss of appetite, muscle aches, rash and a sore throat. It may also lead to headache, cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, hives, jaundice, vision problems and neck stiffness.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of CMV is usually made by taking a blood sample which tests for the presence of antibodies, proteins which fight infections, created by the immune system after exposure to CMV. Other tests can look for the presence of CMV itself in the blood or other bodily fluids.

Treatment

People with normal immune systems generally do not require any treatment. Pain-relieving medications for muscle aches and gargling salt-water for a sore throat may be useful. People with weakened immune systems often need antiviral medications to fight the virus, reduce the severity of the symptoms and decrease the likelihood of complications.

Prevention

There is no vaccine for cytomegalovirus. Infections may be prevented by maintaining good hygiene (eg. washing hands and avoiding social situations when sick) and avoiding close contact, kissing or sexual contact with infected people. People with weakened immune systems should be alert to signs of infection (fever, coughs, etc.) and should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Other names for cytomegalovirus infection

  • CMV