Congenital Cytomegalovirus: The Most Common Congenital Viral Infection

Congenital Cytomegalovirus, also known as CMV, is a type of herpes virus that is passed from the placenta through the mother’s umbilical cord to her unborn child during pregnancy. According to the CDC, although only 20 percent of babies that become infected with CMV experience serious health issues, it is the most common congenital viral infection. A mother is commonly unaware that she is a carrier of CMV because her immune system has most likely prevented it from making her ill. If the mother has a weaker immune system, she may experience negative symptoms, such as digestive problems, issues with the eyes and lungs, mononucleosis, or even hepatitis. A baby infected with Congenital Cytomegalovirus may not have detectable health issues, but some babies show symptoms of CMV at the time of birth or during early childhood years.

Symptoms of Congenital Cytomegalovirus

According to the National CMV Foundation, 9 in 10 babies infected with Congenital Cytomegalovirus will show no sign of having the virus whatsoever at childbirth. These cases are referred to as being asymptomatic. Under 20 percent of asymptomatic children may develop health complications over time, such as hearing loss or minor vision loss. No issues with motor function, cerebral palsy, muscle tone, or cognitive learning abilities have been reported. The 10 percent of babies born with CMV that are symptomatic demonstrate serious symptoms at the time of childbirth, such as:

  • Being born prematurely
  • Abnormally small birth weight
  • Jaundice
  • Enlarged liver
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Petechiae or Purpura skin rash

Over the course of their life, children born with symptomatic Congenital Cytomegalovirus may also experience such health conditions as loss of hearing and vision, coordination issues, intellectual learning disabilities, muscular difficulties, seizures, or digestive issues.

Diagnosis of CMV

An article in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology about the “Prenatal Diagnosis of Congenital Cytomegalovirus” explains that in some cases, the presence of CMV can be isolated before a child is born through testing amniotic fluid samples. It is difficult to determine which pregnant women require prenatal testing for CMV, unless the woman is known to be infected with the virus. Other diagnostic options include Polymerase Chain Reaction tests (PCR) to analyze the presence of the virus within DNA samples from both the mother and the fetus. Testing the amniotic fluid from the mother results in a more accurate reading than testing the blood of the fetus. Most babies born from mothers infected with CMV experience irreversible damage from the virus before birth that carries on into health issues throughout their life. More prenatal diagnostic programs are being developed in order to save more fetuses from contracting CMV.

Congenital Cytomegalovirus Treatment Options

For infants and young children affected by CMV, there are pediatric treatment options available that can help to support better early childhood development. The best form of medical care for young patients with CMV involves specialized nutritional, antiviral, and immune system treatments. Surgical options are also available to help with digestive or nervous system-related health issues. A number of different medical professionals across multiple specialties may be required to treat specific cases of CMV, including neurologists, pediatricians, infectious disease doctors, and obstetricians.

June: A Month to Increase Congenital Cytomegalovirus Awareness

CMV is becoming more of a major health concern as time goes on, and treatment practices are being researched to reduce the overall damage. The month of June is a time to get involved and spread awareness about Congenital Cytomegalovirus across the nation. The National CMV Foundation website lists ways to support CMV awareness and research through social media, donations, and sharing personal stories. People can help CMV awareness go viral on social media by using profile picture frames, sharing CMV posts, and by using the #stopcmv and #cmvawareness hashtags. Tax-deductible donations can be made directly to the National CMV Foundation, or you can purchase men’s and women’s bracelets. Do your part this month to make donations and spread community awareness to help stop Congenital Cytomegalovirus.

Caring for pregnant patients that may be infected with CMV is a careful and delicate process. To learn more about how to care for pregnant patients in general, read our article, “How do I deal with a pregnant patient?”

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