Health awareness

Why cytomegalovirus (CMV) should be on your radar

CMV is a common virus and once you have it, it stays in your body for life

May 15, 2023

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If you knew that by age 40, over half of all American adults will be infected by a certain virus that stays in their bodies for life once they’re infected, would you want to know more?

The truth is, such viruses do exist, including one called “cytomegalovirus” (CMV).

What is cytomegalovirus (CMV)?

CMV is a common virus related to the herpes virus, and it can be spread through bodily fluids, like saliva, tears, breast milk or semen. In healthy individuals, CMV can cause no or few symptoms and no long-term health consequences. They may never know they were infected in the first place. Once a person is infected, the virus can remain dormant in the body for years.

However, if your immune system is weakened, there’s a chance that CMV infection (either an initial CMV infection or a reactivation of latent CMV) can lead to symptomatic disease and more serious symptoms affecting the eyes, lungs, liver and other organs.

Who does CMV impact?

Everyone from newborns to adults can pass CMV to others.

Over 50% of American adults are infected with CMV by age 40

CMV in pregnancy

CMV can be passed to babies during pregnancy through the placenta. When this happens, the baby is born with congenital CMV.

woman holding baby

In the U.S., about 1 of every 200 babies is born with congenital CMV

Most babies with congenital CMV don’t experience health problems. But some, or approximately 1 out of every 5 babies born with congenital CMV will have symptoms or other long-term health challenges such as hearing loss, intellectual disability or seizures.

CMV in cancer patients

Cancer patients who have CMV may be more vulnerable to viral reactivation when receiving chemotherapy treatments, which may weaken the immune system.

CMV in transplant patients

People receiving transplants are especially vulnerable when it comes to CMV infection.

For example, patients with blood or other cancers who undergo a bone marrow transplant will take medicines to prevent their bodies from rejecting donated tissue. These medicines can impact their immune systems, making it harder for them to fight off CMV or other infections. For people who already have CMV in their body, this can leave them vulnerable to CMV reactivation.

illustration of doctor and patient talking

CMV reactivation has been shown to occur in ~30-65% of allogeneic* bone marrow transplant recipients who are CMV-positive

*using stem cells from another person (donor)

Transplant recipients can also get CMV from organs donated by people with CMV. Patients undergoing a solid organ transplant, like a liver or kidney transplant, face the highest risk of CMV disease when their organ donor has CMV.

CMV infection after kidney transplant can increase patients’ risk of experiencing organ rejection

Managing CMV

CMV is a common virus, and for most people, it’s not a serious health problem. However, in specific vulnerable groups like transplant recipients, complications from CMV infection can be serious. It’s important that people are aware of the virus and the impact it can have.

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Want to learn more about CMV?

If you have questions about CMV and its potential risks, talk to your health care provider today.