Common infection still a mystery

Congenital cytomegalovirus or CMV infections are responsible for more long-term complications and infant deaths than Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and spina bifida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chris James

Despite also being the most common viral infection infants in the U.S. are born with, hardly anyone knows about it.

CMV is part of the herpes virus group that includes the Varicella-Zoster virus, responsible for chicken pox and shingles, and the Epstein-Barr virus that causes mononucleosis or mono. It is a fairly common infection, harmless in most cases, but once infected with CMV, a person carries it for life. The CDC estimates of every 100 adults in the U.S., 50 to 80 are infected with CMV by the time they reach the age of 40.

Most healthy individuals will not experience any symptoms when infected while others may get a fever, sore throat, fatigue and other flu-like symptoms.

In both cases, it is very unlikely that a person would realize he or she had been infected with CMV.

The virus is usually spread through contact with body fluids like saliva, urine, blood or breast milk, and, of course, is sexually transmitted.

The greatest harm that can occur from an infection is when it is passed to an unborn child. The CDC said there is a 1 in 100 chance that a mother infected before pregnancy will pass it on to her fetus.

They also say 33 out of every 100 women who became infected initially during pregnancy will pass it on. The CDC estimates 1 to 4 of 100 infected women had their primary infection occur during pregnancy.

According to the CDC, 5,000 children each year suffer permanent problems caused by CMV infections. These include hearing loss, vision loss, mental disability, lack of coordination, seizures, and death in some rare cases.

Some infected infants will not show any signs of problems at birth, but may develop them over time. Early detection can help the child’s development.

Outside of sexual contact, the CDC said prevention of an infection during pregnancy can be as simple as washing your hands for 15 to 20 seconds after changing diapers, feeding a young child, wiping a child’s nose or drool and handling children’s toys. Pregnant women also should never share food, drinks, eating utensils, or toothbrushes with young children.

This is a dangerous virus that gets very little attention. Why don’t more people know about it? Why isn’t the test for CMV part of standard testing? A test exists.

A recent call to Planned Parenthood turned up more troubling news. When asked if a client could be tested for CMV through their clinics, the answer was no. When asked why the test couldn’t be done, the answer was “we just don’t.”

At, experts said the testing process is not definitive enough yet for it to be part of routinely testing, “because there is no test that can definitively rule out primary CMV infection during pregnancy.” said CMV vaccines are still in the research and development stage but they receive no dedicated federal funding. Obviously, it will take the public’s engagement and support to stop CMV.

The only way to know for sure if you are carrying the infection is to get tested and everyone should get tested. The lives of innocent newborns are at risk and we should do all that we can to ensure their safety.

—Chris James

Staff Writer

To contact Chris James, email

Leave comment