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The STI Files: Cytomegalovirus

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Stat: Every year, Cytomegalovirus (CMV) causes permanent physical and developmental disabilities for as many as 7,000 infants.

What is it exactly? One member of a group of herpes-type viruses. It is transmitted through body fluids, sexually and nonsexually, and from mother to infant during birth. CMV is also incredibly dangerous for people who are immunocompromised or people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

About how many people have it? About eighty percent of healthy adults (or 8 in ten people) have antibodies (which show a previous or current infection) to CMV in their bloodstreams.

How is it spread? By any body fluids through general nonsexual contact, vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse, blood transfusions or sharing IV drug equipment, bone marrow transplants, organ transplants or from mother to infant during pregnancy, birth or via breastfeeding.

What are its symptoms? The initial infection is usually asymptomatic, which means it produces no noticeable symptoms.

Reinfection may cause symptoms similar to mononucleosis, such as swollen glands, headaches, loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, night sweats, general weakness, a persistent cough or difficulty breathing, pneumonia and an increased transmission rate of other STIs and diseases.

How is it diagnosed? By a blood test, urine test or a chest x-ray.

Is it treatable? Symptoms may be managed with antiviral medications, but treatment is not generally successful during a pregnancy.

Is it curable? Like many viruses, CMV can remain in the body for life, and there is presently no cure.

Can it affect fertility? It cannot affect fertility, but childbirth may be problematic and CMV is very commonly transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth.

Can it cause death? When pneumonia becomes present with CMV, decreased oxygen in the blood can be fatal. It can also contribute to secondary infections or diseases as well as kidney failure, all of which can cause death. In people with compromised immune systems it may affect the liver, esophagus, and large intestine, and all of these conditions can be fatal.

How can we protect against it? Condoms provide protection against CMV during vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse, but it can also be spread by kissing or by nonsexual contact. Getting an annual screening for STIs including CMV can also help to prevent transmission.

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written 29 Apr 2007 . updated 13 Dec 2012

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