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What is a CMV Virus?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 31 March 2018
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CMV virus is an abbreviation of cytomegalovirus, which is a virus belonging to the herpes virus family. It’s also called herpes virus five. This particular disease is widespread, but in healthy people may not cause many complications. Concern exists when it is contracted during pregnancy, as it can significantly affect newborn health and development, and also when people with suppressed immune systems contract the virus or already have it in their systems. Like other herpes infections, CMV doesn’t leave the body, and may be reactivated at a later point causing significant challenges to the immunosuppressed person.

Usually, cytomegalovirus is asymptomatic or absent of symptoms and this means it’s hard to tell if someone has or has had the illness, and thus avoid contraction. CMV virus is shed through body fluids including tears and breast milk, and many people will get it in the first few years of life. This is why contagion level tends to be highest in places like daycares, where exposure to human waste is frequent. Pregnant women working in daycare settings need to be especially careful about handwashing protocol after changing diapers, and it’s typically advised that they don’t work with children under the age of two and a half or three, to minimize potential exposure.

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The difficulty with contraction of CMV virus during pregnancy is that it may be passed to the newborn, and in some cases, children who get CMV in this manner could end up with severe illness or lifelong problems. These could include deficits in vision or hearing, changes in mental capability, blood disorders, or conditions that affect the liver or spleen. Sometimes early infection with the virus doesn’t lead to problems right away but later on in life people develop spontaneous problems with vision or hearing. It should be noted that not all babies infected with cytomegalovirus manifest health problems.

Similar issues exist for immunosuppressed people who have dormant CMV virus or who contract it after the immunosuppressive condition has begun. For example, some people contract cytomegalovirus from an organ transplant, and anti-rejection drugs induce immunosuppression. This can be serious, causing organ rejection or serious infections in many of the body’s systems. It is made more difficult because the virus is so hard to treat. It may not fully respond to anti-viral drugs and even if the illness is brought under control, it can become active again, later on.

For most people, CMV virus does not pose a medical risk and incidence of infection is high. People might be able to prevent transmission to a degree with avoidance of other people’s body fluids, but this isn’t always possible. Good handwashing practices may cause some reduction in possible exposure, and especially pregnant women or the immunosuppressed should make significant effort to avoid this illness.

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