Cytomegalovirus, otherwise known as CMV, is the most common viral infection that can affect pregnant women and people, and cause severe disease/disability in infants. Though every person is at risk for the virus, only 9% of people know about it. As part of International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month, we are sharing the most important information about CMV all families should know.
CMV is a common viral infection that nearly every person has at one time or another over the course of their life. It is a member of the herpes family and causes mild, cold-like symptoms like sore throat, fever, fatigue, and swollen glands. The virus is typically harmless to the general population (though immunocompromised people may experience more serious problems). In pregnancy, however, CMV can infect babies before birth (known as "congenital" CMV) and can cause birth defects and disabilities, some of which can be serious or fatal, including: loss of hearing or vision, mental disability, microcephaly, cerebral palsy, seizures, and more. Learn more about outcomes of CMV here.
The tricky thing about CMV is that you won't know if you have an active infection or a prior infection without having an antibody test performed via bloodwork. Unlike other viruses that cause more specific and detectable symptoms, CMV can occur without symptoms or with symptoms that mimic a common cold. Because of this, prevention is the best way to lower the risk of CMV and CMV-related birth complications.
Preventing a first-time CMV infection requires reducing your risk of contracting it during pregnancy. Even if you've had an infection prior to pregnancy, you're still at risk of a recurrent or new strain infection and prevention measures are recommended. The most common transmission of CMV happens from saliva and urine of young children.
Prevent CMV by:
- Not sharing food, utensils, drinks, straws
- Not putting a pacifier in your mouth
- Avoiding contact with saliva when kissing a child
- Not sharing a toothbrush
- Washing your hands
If you are a parent to a young child or work with young children while pregnant, many of these "don'ts" are easier said than done. Do your best to avoid coming in contact with saliva and urine, but don't let worrying consume your every move. If anxiety and worrying during pregnancy begin to impact your mental health, talk to your doctor or midwife, or speak with a therapist. Mental health is as important as physical health.
Learn more about CMV, including pregnancy and newborn screening, intervention and therapy options, and vaccine development, on the National CMV Foundation website.