Cytomegalovirus (CMV) in the Newborn

What is it?

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common viral infection related to the viruses that cause chickenpox and mononucleosis. More than half of adults in the United States have had a CMV infection by age 40. It is spread through close contact with another person’s body fluids. In an otherwise healthy adult, CMV may cause symptoms similar to the common cold such as tiredness, headache and fever.

How do babies get it?

CMV is the most common infection passed from a mother to her unborn child; about 1 out of every 200 babies is born with CMV each year. If you are pregnant and have CMV, the virus in your blood can cross through your placenta and infect your baby.

Why do we test for it?

The vast majority of infants born with CMV will never have any symptoms or health problems. However, CMV infection is one of the leading causes of hearing loss in children in the United States. When a newborn does not pass their hearing screen, this prompts your physician to test for CMV. Other signs that a baby might have CMV infection when they are born include small head size, seizures, liver, spleen and lung problems.

How do we test for it?

A saliva or urine sample from your newborn can be used to effectively detect CMV infection. If your baby is older than 3 weeks, your physician will discuss other options.

What if the test is negative?

No further action is necessary, your child is unlikely to have been infected with CMV.

What if the test is positive?

Your child will be referred to an infectious disease specialist who will help determine treatment options on a case-by-case basis. Their recommendations may include additional blood work, ultrasound imaging, eye examination, and/or medicines called antivirals. Depending on severity of the disease, antivirals may reduce associated health problems but do not eliminate CMV from the body. There is no cure for CMV, once someone has the virus, it stays with them for life. Children born with CMV should continue to have regular hearing checks.

How can I help prevent spread of the infection?

Children who have CMV from birth may pass the virus in their urine and saliva for many years. To reduce the spread of CMV it is important to wash your hands, especially after changing diapers. Also, teach your children not to share eating utensils with other children.