Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

About fifty percent of young adults in New Zealand have been infected with CMV. Once you get CMV, you have it for life. It can reappear at times, causing you to feel ill, or it can lie dormant for years.

What Causes CMV?

Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is similar to the viruses that cause chicken pox or cold sores. You and your children can get the virus by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has the virus. CMV is spread through coughing, contact with blood, tears, saliva, urine or faeces, or mucous membranes.

Is CMV serious?

Most people don’t know they have been infected with cytomegalovirus. In the majority of cases, CMV causes only mild flu-like symptoms. However, CMV can cause complications for an unborn foetus, so pregnant women who contract the virus should see their doctor. Cytomegalovirus can also be dangerous for people with compromised immune systems and organ transplant patients.

Can I Prevent CMV?

Cytomegalovirus can be prevented through several commonsense precautions for both children and adults:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Avoid sharing drinking glasses and eating utensils.
  • Dispose of tissues and nappies properly.
  • Practice safe sex to avoid contracting an infection you can pass to others, including your children.

How do I know if my child has CMV?

In otherwise healthy children, cytomegalovirus produces the following flu-like symptoms. Symptoms depend on the organs affected.

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Night sweats
  • Prolonged fever
  • Swollen glands and/or sore throat
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
  • Muscle aches, joint pain, or stiffness
  • General feeling of being unwell

Like healthy children, those with compromised immune systems or those who have received an organ transplant may experience symptoms based on the organs affected.

Serious complications of cytomegalovirus in immunocompromised children include:

  • Visual impairment and blindness
  • Pneumonia
  • Diarrhoea and ulcerations with bleeding
  • Hepatitis
  • Encephalitis, seizures and coma
  • Babies born with cytomegalovirus often display no symptoms. However, complications such as blindness and hearing loss may develop over time.

How do I treat cytomegalovirus?

For otherwise healthy children, no specific treatment is needed. Flu-like symptoms can be managed with paracetamol. Women who get CMV while pregnant should remain under a doctor’s care to monitor the effect on their unborn baby.

Should I call the doctor?

CMV in a child with a compromised immune system can be fatal. Contact your child’s doctor if your immune compromised child has been exposed to CMV. If you believe you were exposed to CMV while you were pregnant, tell your child’s doctor so that he can be monitored for potential problems.

What you need to know about CMV

Cytomegalovirus is similar to the virus that causes chicken pox or cold sores.
Once you are infected with CMV, you carry the infection for the rest of your life.
CMV is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of infected people.
Most people experience mild, flu-like symptoms during a cytomegalovirus reactivation.
CMV can be dangerous for unborn babies and children with compromised immune systems from disease or organ transplants.

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