Cytomegalovirus: Beware if You are Pregnant!

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) must we one of the most widespread viruses that nobody has heard about: up to 50% of all adults have it without even knowing. However, it can be very dangerous for your unborn baby.

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Get acquainted with CMV

Most people unknowingly carry a whole range of viruses that cause few problems if at all: herpes of different kinds, candida, Epstein-Barr… CMV is one of these: it can only be diagnosed via a special blood test that healthy individuals don’t have to do and causes very few symptoms. It is also known as human herpes type 5 virus and is transmitted via body fluids: kissing, sex, breast milk, etc. However, you can only transmit the disease when the virus in is the primary activation or reactivation stage; the rest of the time it remains dormant. If you do get symptoms when infected, they will closely resemble flu:

  • Fever and chills
  • Sore throat
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Soreness in the muscles

To treat a primary CMV infection, you can take the same meds as for the flu, and in a few days the symptoms will resolve.

Risk groups

If your immune system is weakend by a long disease, by HIV or AIDS, or after a surgery, then CMV can present a danger for you. People who are going through chemotherapy or have had a stem cell or organ translplantation are in particular danger: CMV can be fatal for them, causing organ failure. Pregnant women will not suffer from CMV more than healthy people, but they have a 30% chance to pass on the infection to the fetus (more details here).

If you have already had CMV, then it can reactivate after some other illness or when you find yourself with a weak immune system. For reactivation and for risk groups, symptoms are more serious:

  • Vision problems
  • Difficulty breathing and cough
  • Liver inflammation and jaundice
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Diarrhea and bleeding
  • Seizures

Unfortunately, there is no cure for CMV: once you get it, you have it for life. Risk groups are treated with antiviral medications that can have serious side effects, and scientists are working on a vaccine. However, healthy adults usually don’t need treatment.

Congenital CMV – the real danger

Among babies who get CMV in the womb, around 20% will have symptoms at birth or later in life. Signs right after birth include premature birth, a small head (microcephaly), seizures, jaundice, purple rash, and especiallly hearing loss.

Children with congenital CMV often have no symptoms in the first months of their life; however, in the following years they can develop learning and development disabilities, autism, deafness, and vision loss.

All pregnant women should be tested for CMV, and if an active primary infection is detected, additional controls and precautions should be taken. It is essential to test a baby for CMV in the first 3 weeks of life.

Avoid getting CMV when pregnant

A few simple rules will lower the risk of contracting a primary CMV infection during pregnancy (note that if you are already a carrier, the risk to your baby is minimal):

  • Do not share eating utensils and glasses with other people;
  • Don’t touch your eyes after you come in contact with other people’s body fluids (if you have other kids, for example);
  • Wash your hands often;
  • Get your partner tested for CMV; if he is positive, consider using a condom during pregnancy;
  • Strengthen your immune system

Unfortunately, it is impossible to protect yourself fully against CMV. There is no necessity to be scared – after all, over half of all people have it and the risk to a baby is only 5-7% – but it is necessary to know what CMV is and to be able to recognize its symptoms, just like with any other virus.

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