• Samantha Isaacs

The Nitty Gritty of Congenital Cytomegalovirus

Updated: Jan 8, 2020

Raise your hand if you have heard of Congenital Cytomegalovirus...

No? No one?


You aren't alone in not knowing. According to the most recent, only 9% of women have heard of CMV.

What is it then, this CMV thing?

Cytomegalovirus (sy·toe·MEG·a·low·vy·rus) or CMV, is a member of the herpes virus family. Typically, for the general population, coming into contact with the CMV virus is a common occurrence and generally harmless. A CMV infection can cause cold-like symptoms, such as a sore throat, fever, fatigue and swollen glands. These are usually very mild symptoms that

last for only a few short weeks and rarely cause any concern for healthy kids or adults.

It is important to note that the CMV virus can cause serious problems for people with weakened immune systems, such as those who are immunocompromised due to organ transplants, HIV/AIDS infection, chemotherapy, and specific medications, such as glucocorticoids, cytostatics, antibodies, and drugs acting on immunophilins.

Congential CMV is when the virus causes severe disease in babies who were infected before birth, when their mothers contacted the virus during pregnancy. According to the CDC and estimated 50 to 80 percent of people in the United States have had a CMV infection by the time they are 40 years old. Once a person has had CMV, the virus stays there for life and can reactivate. Think of it like the Chicken Pox, once you have had them, the virus stays in our body and we never get the chicken pox again. A person can also be reinfected with a different strain of the virus (just like getting shingles instead of chicken pox). There are many strains of the Human Herpes Virus family.

How do we get this terrible virus?

CMV is not spread through casual contact. Instead, it is spread from one person to another, by direct and prolonged contact with bodily fluids, such as saliva, urine, and breast milk. 

CMV is common among healthy children who attend daycare and can easily spread the virus among their peers. In the United States, nearly one in three children are infected with CMV by 5 years of age; it is not generally harmful to these children and most do not exhibit signs or symptoms of infection. Contact with the saliva or urine of young children is a major cause of CMV infection among pregnant women, especially mothers, daycare workers, preschool teachers, therapists, and nurses.

Screening and Detection

Each and every woman who is of childbearing age can learn her CMV status through a simple blood test. Before you plan to conceive, ask your doctor to test your CMV IgG and IgM antibody levels. If your doctor refuses, ask them to document their refusal in your chart. The test are relatively inexpensive and covered by most insurance companies.

What does Congenital CMV Cause?

Congenital CMV can cause a very wide variety of problems.

Babies born with congenital CMV may be born with birth defects (physical) and developmental disabilities, including:

Hearing loss Vision loss Mental disability Microcephaly (small head or brain) Intracranial calcifications Lack of coordination Cerebral Palsy Feeding issues / Failure to Thrive (FTT) Sleeping, behavior, sensory issues Seizures Death (in rare cases)

Babies born with congenital CMV can appear to be either symptomatic or asymptomatic at birth. Symptomatic meaning that they exhibit specific physical or developmental delays at birth. Ten percent (10%) of babies born with congenital CMV will be symptomatic at birth and may exhibit symptoms such as small size for gestational age, jaundice or yellow color of the skin, a “blueberry muffin” skin rash called petechiae/purpira, and/or an enlarged liver or spleen. These babies may also have a small head size (microcephaly) and may have problems with their blood cell counts and low platelets. Approximately 75% of these babies will have signs of brain involvement and may experience major challenges as they grow, including problems with hearing, vision, nutrition, growth, cognition, learning, and motor/muscle tone.

We could talk for days about CMV. How you can get it, what can happen, what can be done to stop it.

The fact of the matter is, this is just skimming the surface.

The very, very important surface.

To learn more about CMV, the dangers of this virus, ways to protect yourself and those you love, and how to help advocate for legislative changes in your state, you can visit www.nationalcmv.org

To learn more about CMV kids like Hank, see our efforts to increase awareness, and find ways to get involved check out the Blog at


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