What is Congenital CMV?

Mary McMahon

Congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) is prenatal infection with this member of the herpesvirus family. This condition can potentially lead to health problems and disabilities. Pregnant mothers can take some steps to try to avoid CMV infection so they do not pass it on to their children, and if a baby has symptoms of congenital CMV at birth, there are some supportive measures doctors can take to provide care. CMV is not curable, although as of 2011, medical researchers were working on vaccinations to prevent it in vulnerable populations.

Pregnant women may contract CMV as a result of poor hygiene.
Pregnant women may contract CMV as a result of poor hygiene.

In most adults, CMV is a harmless infection. The body can easily fight it off and while it remains latent, it will not cause disease. It is a cause for concern in people with compromised immune systems, and in cases where people experience infection prenatally, as the developing fetus lacks the ability to fight off the disease. The virus can interfere with some aspects of fetal development and may result in critical illness in preterm babies.

A prenatal infection of CMV can be dangerous, as a fetus is not equipped to fight  the disease.
A prenatal infection of CMV can be dangerous, as a fetus is not equipped to fight the disease.

Pregnant women can contract CMV as a result of poor hygiene or other sources of exposure to the disease, like being crowded in an environment with CMV carriers. Many women do not experience symptoms, while others may feel fatigued and ill. The virus passes through the placenta and infects the developing fetus. Testing in pregnancy can reveal whether a woman has a CMV infection and this can be helpful for preparing for the birth.

A baby with congenital CMV may have an unusually small head.
A baby with congenital CMV may have an unusually small head.

A baby with congenital CMV can have symptoms like an unusually small head, retinal infections, seizures, jaundice, and low birth weight. Liver and spleen enlargement can also be present. With support, some infants make a full recovery and do not experience health issues related to the congenital CMV later in life. Others may experience vision and hearing loss, along with other neurological problems. A person born with congenital CMV should receive regular medical evaluations to check for complications, with the goal of identifying and treating problems quickly.

Treatment of congenital CMV focuses on providing supportive care to manage the symptoms and keep the patient comfortable. Experimental therapies with antiviral drugs show some promise, and parents may want to discuss this option with their care providers to learn more. It may also be possible to enroll in a clinical trial to have access to new medications and treatment protocols. Trials provide an opportunity to contribute to the body of medical research while also receiving treatments not yet available for the general public.

A baby with congenital CMV may have a low birth weight.
A baby with congenital CMV may have a low birth weight.

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