Everything you need to know about cytomegalovirus infection

Cytomegalovirus infection goes unrecognized in healthy adults. However, it can cause problems in newborns and in people with HIV.

Last update: September 19, 2022

Cytomegalovirus is a virus belonging to the herpes family that It has the capacity to infect anyone. It is more serious in newborn children and in immunocompromised patients.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of adults in their 40s are infected with the virus. Fortunately, it is a self-limited pathology in most cases, which usually disappears without the need for treatment.

Types of cytomegalovirus

Cytomegalovirus infection can manifest itself in multiple ways:

  • Congenital cytomegalovirus: It appears in newborn children and is transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy. This is a dangerous way.
  • Primary cytomegalovirus: It appears when a person first gets the virus. The infection has multiple forms of presentation, and may be asymptomatic or even resemble mononucleosis.
  • Reactivation of cytomegalovirus: the virus is able to remain latent. In this sense, reactivation occurs in people who have already suffered from the disease and have a depressed immune system.
Mononucleosis is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. However, cytomegalovirus is capable of generating a similar picture.

Symptoms of cytomegalovirus infection

Cytomegalovirus infection can generate multiple clinical manifestations. In fact, a study published in the journal Microbiology Spectrum states that the spectrum can range from an asymptomatic form to a severe disease in immunocompromised patients.

The disease usually occurs without any apparent symptoms in healthy people. In this way, some contract it and do not even notice it.

For their part, others develop mild symptoms:

  • Fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • General discomfort.
  • Throat pain.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.

Immunocompromised people develop a more severe form of the disease. Several organs can be affected, such as the retina, the brain, the digestive tract, the lungs or the liver. There are many different symptoms, such as the following:

  • Blind spots in sight and blurred vision, even blindness.
  • Difficulty to swallow.
  • Weightloss.
  • Confusion.
  • Diarrhea.

Symptoms in babies

Symptoms in congenital cytomegalovirus infection are very different from those in adults. Among the most common clinical manifestations, the following stand out:

  • Purple spots on the skin.
  • Premature birth.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Hepatomegaly.
  • seizures
  • Microcephaly.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Jaundice.

forms of transmission

Anyone with an active infection is capable of transmitting the disease.. The virus is found in different body fluids, especially in the blood, from where it is capable of affecting the organs.

Other bodily fluids are also infected by the virus. These include saliva, urine, breast milk and tears. Semen and vaginal secretions also have a viral load.

In this way, the virus can be transmitted from person to person. Some of the most common forms of transmission are as follows:

  • Drink infected breast milk.
  • Having sexual contact with an infected person.
  • Touching the eyes or mouth after contact with infected fluids.
  • Infected organ, bone marrow, or blood transplants.
  • Vertical transmission from mother to baby during childbirth.


Diagnosis of cytomegalovirus infection is made through history and physical examination. The specialist will inquire about the appearance and evolution of the symptoms. In addition, she will do a physical exam focused on the abdomen to check for changes in the liver or spleen.

Blood and urine tests will allow the virus to be detected and thus definitively diagnose the infection. Ideally, perform a PCR test on the fluids. However, detecting antibodies and performing cultures are also effective.

Specialists may order additional tests to assess organ damage. Eye fundus, biopsies, or CT scans may be ordered. Pregnant women with an active infection should have their amniotic fluid tested.

Treatment of cytomegalovirus infection

As usual, healthy people do not deserve any type of treatment. This is because the body is able to control the infection on its own after 4 to 6 weeks.

The pharmacological approach to cytomegalovirus infection is only recommended in newborn infants and immunocompromised patients. However, the type of treatment will depend on the symptoms presented and the severity of the condition.

Antivirals are the most prescribed drugs. These compounds are capable of delaying viral replication, although they do not eliminate the virus itself.

Analgesics and antipyretics help relieve symptoms.

Drugs are not always needed for infection. Most cases are asymptomatic.

Possible complications

The complications of cytomegalovirus infection are highly variable and will depend on the person’s health status, as well as the severity of the condition. The most common complication is throat infection.however, the following may also appear:

  • Guillain Barre syndrome.
  • Colitis.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Retinitis.
  • Pericarditis.
  • Encephalitis.
  • Hepatitis.

Cytomegalovirus infection has a good prognosis

Fortunately, cytomegalovirus infection has a good prognosis in most cases. Symptoms usually disappear within a few weeks and drugs control viral replication.

However, it is always important to be vigilant in pregnant women, newborns, and people with compromised immune systems. In these cases, it is recommended to go to the doctor as soon as possible to start the appropriate approach.

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