Why cytomegalovirus (CMV) should be on your radar
Once you have CMV, it stays in your body for life.
November 14, 2023
If you knew that on average, an estimated 83% of the global population has a certain virus that stays in their bodies for life once they’re infected, would you want to know more?
The truth is, such viruses do exist, including one called “cytomegalovirus” (CMV).
What is cytomegalovirus (CMV)?
CMV is a common virus related to the herpes virus, and it can be spread through bodily fluids, like saliva, tears, breast milk or semen. In healthy individuals, CMV can cause no or few symptoms and no long-term health consequences. They may never know they were infected in the first place. Once a person is infected, the virus can remain dormant in the body for years.
However, if your immune system is weakened, there’s a chance that CMV infection (either an initial CMV infection or a reactivation of latent CMV) can lead to symptomatic disease and more serious symptoms affecting the eyes, lungs, liver and other organs.
Who does CMV impact?
Everyone from newborns to adults can pass CMV to others.
On average, an estimated 83% of the global population is infected with CMV
CMV in pregnancy
CMV can be passed to babies during pregnancy through the placenta. When this happens, the baby is born with congenital CMV. Most babies with congenital CMV don’t experience health problems. But some babies born with congenital CMV will have symptoms or other long-term health challenges.
Babies born with congenital CMV can experience hearing loss, intellectual disability or seizures
CMV in cancer patients
Cancer patients who have CMV may be more vulnerable to viral reactivation when receiving chemotherapy treatments, which may weaken the immune system.
CMV in transplant patients
People receiving transplants are especially vulnerable when it comes to CMV infection.
For example, patients with blood or other cancers who undergo a bone marrow transplant will take medicines to prevent their bodies from rejecting donated tissue. These medicines can impact their immune systems, making it harder for them to fight off CMV or other infections. For people who already have CMV in their bodies, this can leave them vulnerable to CMV reactivation.
CMV reactivation has been shown to occur in ~30-65% of allogeneic* bone marrow transplant recipients who are CMV-positive
*using stem cells from another person (donor)
Transplant recipients can also get CMV from organs donated by people with CMV. Patients undergoing a solid organ transplant (like a liver or kidney transplant) that are negative for CMV face the highest risk of CMV disease when their organ donor has CMV. In 2021, ~92,532 kidney transplants were performed globally.
CMV infection after kidney transplant can increase patients’ risk of experiencing organ rejection
CMV is a common virus, and for most people, it’s not a serious health problem. However, in specific vulnerable groups like transplant recipients, complications from CMV infection can be serious. It’s important that people are aware of the virus and the impact it can have.
Want to learn more about CMV?
If you have questions about CMV and its potential risks, talk to your health care provider today.