Cytomega-What? - Wake Research


text: Citomega-what? Learn about cytomegalovirus that can affect pregnant women and newborns | pictured: a woman covers her mouth in surprise

The Cytomegalovirus (sai-tow-meh-guh-low) is a virus that infects almost a third of children by the age of five, and between 50%-80% of adults have been infected by the time they’re 40 years old. Most otherwise healthy people will likely experience no symptoms and have no idea they’ve been infected. CMV has likely never been on your radar unless you are pregnant, have a newborn, or have a weakened immune system. Here’s how CMV can affect pregnant women and newborns.

pictured: a teddy bear wears a bandage and sits beside medical implements

Transmission & Symptoms

Symptoms in healthy people are typically non-existent or mild but can manifest as fever, fatigue, and more. However, symptoms can be more severe for newborns with a congenital or perinatal CMV infection. Congenital infections occur before birth, and perinatal infections occur during or shortly after birth.

Common concerns pregnant women have about the virus include the likelihood of transmitting it to their newborns. Because the virus spreads via body fluids like saliva, blood, tears, etc., babies can become infected before and during birth. Pregnant women who become infected with CMV for the first time have a 40% chance of passing it to the baby, but the chances of passing it on may be lower if it’s an old infection that has been reactivated or an infection from a different strain of the virus. After birth, newborns may still become infected not only from the body fluids mentioned before but also from breastfeeding.

Many babies with CMV may not show signs of the infection; 1-10% of babies with a CMV infection will show symptoms at birth, which may include:

  • Premature birth
  • Jaundice
  • Low birth weight
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Microencephaly (small head)
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision problems

Testing & Treatment

In general, blood tests and fluid or tissue samples may be used to diagnose CMV, but saliva and urine tests are typically used for newborns. Prior to birth, ultrasounds can identify and track some CMV symptoms like microencephaly, but some of the symptoms won’t appear on ultrasound. After discussing the risks and advantages of the procedure with healthcare providers, women also have the choice to undergo a procedure called amniocentesis to get an amniotic fluid sample that can be tested for CMV. Antiviral medications like valganciclovir may be used to treat the infections, but doctors will likely exercise caution when using these medications since they can cause serious side effects.

pictured: a pair of hands washes in a sink


Since there’s currently no vaccine, practicing good hygiene is the best method of prevention. Washing your hands properly, avoiding sharing food and drinks, practicing safe sex, and other standard precautions can help avoid getting a CMV infection.

You can learn more about women’s health topics in the news & events section of our website. There you’ll also find information about how you have the power to help advance women’s medicine by participating in a clinical trial! To learn more about enrolling studies at Wake Research, call (919) 781-2514 or visit our enrolling studies webpage.