Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common viral infection that is related to herpes. Like many other herpes viruses, CMV remains latent in healthy hosts, which means the virus remains dormant inside the individual. Even though the virus is present, no signs or symptoms of illness appear during this stage. However, if diseases, transplants or chemotherapy compromise the host's immune system, the CMV may reactivate, causing the individual to become ill.
HIV positive individuals are at the greatest risk for CMV, especially when their CD4 cell count decreases. CMV retinitis (inflammation of the retina) is a leading cause of blindness in patients with AIDS. It is also increasingly common among organ transplant recipients, as the number of those procedures performed each year increases.
CMV infects between 50-80% of the adult population. Clinically evident disease is found almost exclusively in individuals who are immunocompromised.
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A pregnant mother with CMV can potentially pass the virus to her fetus, which increases the risk of birth defects. CMV is the most common congenital infection. The majority of babies who are infected with the virus before birth are asymptomatic (experience no symptoms) at birth. However, up to 15% will develop neurological abnormalities like deafness, blindness or mental retardation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Pregnant women undergo a blood test to determine whether or not they have CMV. If the pregnant woman tests positive, the physician may test the fetus for infection with amniocentesis.
If the fetus shows signs of infection, an ultrasound can be used to detect any abnormalities in the fetus. Treatment may include an antiviral medication. However, antiviral drugs have not been proven to be safe during pregnancy. Also, there is no scientific evidence that antiviral drugs can protect the fetus from CMV.