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Cytomegalovirus, what it is, symptoms and course of this complex disease


Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is a virus belonging to the herpes family. Let’s find out how the disease evolves and what are the ways to prevent and treat it.

When you contract a herpes virus infection , in most cases, and therefore also for Cytomegalovirus, this remains latent in the body. However, it can happen that the microorganism carrying the infection becomes active, especially when the immune system is weakened. Specifically, when you come into contact with the virus for the first time, we talk about primary infection, while when it reactivates , secondary infection. Let’s try to understand how to recognize the disease and how to behave, especially with regard to prevention.

Cytomegalovirus: what it is

However, Cytomegalovirus is a very common and easily transmitted virus , which is why it spreads quickly. In any case, the infection is almost always asymptomatic and this makes diagnosis difficult, but the disease has a spontaneous course and often those who contract it do not even notice it.


Cytomegalovirus, however, becomes dangerous when it affects subjects with compromised immune defenses, perhaps following an intervention. For this reason, children and pregnant women are the most exposed to this pathology, which if transmitted to the fetus, can cause abortions or serious damage to the organism of the unborn child.

Cytomegalovirus: primary and secondary infection

As we have anticipated there are two different stages in Cytomegalovirus infection. The first, called primary infection , represents the first contact with the virus, which can spread throughout the body, carried by body fluids. When primary cytomegalovirus infection occurs, anti-CMV antibodies develop in the blood.

Instead, when secondary infection occurs, the virus that has remained inactive until then “wakes up”. This can happen when the body’s immune threshold drops and it can happen that you are reinfected by the disease.

Cytomegalovirus: the contagion

Once the cytomegalovirus is contracted, it can be transmitted to other individuals and most of the time it passes from the mother to the newborn . This happens because man is the only means by which this infection can spread and normally the infection occurs through exchanges of fluids such as:

– mother’s milk
– vaginal sperm and secretions

As we can see, the transmission of Cytomegalovirus can occur in a simple way, even more so in places such as homes or schools, and through sexual contact. In this case, however, the contagion is quite rare , since almost all adult individuals are already protected from the Cytomegalovirus infection. But as we have said, the most frequent contagion is that between mother and child, and can occur in particular circumstances, namely pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Transmission to the fetus, on the other hand, can vary according to the type of Cytomegalovirus infection, but in general we can say that in the first and second trimester of pregnancy the incidence is 30-40%. This rises between 40-70% in the third trimester, while cases of infection are reduced to 1-2% with secondary infection.

Cytomegalovirus: symptoms

Cytomegalovirus infection is normally asymptomatic, so there are no symptoms and the patient does not know that he has contracted the disease. This happens because the body’s immune system is able to control the virus , blocking the spread of the disease to the rest of the body.


However, there are cases in which the Cytomegalovirus causes symptoms, which can have various nature and extent, based on age and how the virus was contracted. In most cases, the symptoms are the same as those experienced during influenza or mononucleosis . We are therefore talking about fever, fatigue, sore throat and abnormal swelling of the lymph nodes.

Most of the time these problems resolve themselves within 5 or 10 days , but in the most serious scenarios they can last longer or evolve into more serious situations. This occurs mainly in children and in people with a weaker immune system.

Complications of the infection

Cytomegalovirus infection, in severe cases, can cause complications in various organs such as the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, brain, spinal cord and eyes. In adolescents and young adults, Cytomegalovirus causes a particular infectious mononucleosis , with symptoms such as fever, hepatitis with increased transaminases and lymphocytosis.

On the other hand, if you contract the infection with a compromised immune system, the consequences are quite serious, so much so as to damage organs or cause death. In this case, the people most at risk are fetuses, newborns, AIDS patients, those who have undergone a transplant or have cancer of the blood or lymphatic system. Cytomegalovirus infection is one of the major complications in AIDS patients , which can also lead to:

brain infections
-ulcers of the intestine and esophagus

In any case, the infection during pregnancy is perhaps the most dangerous and, in addition to being able to cause permanent damage to the baby, it represents a great risk factor. In fact, in the worst scenarios, Cytomegalovirus causes spontaneous abortion, stillbirth or death of the baby. The extent of the damage, however, depends on the period of pregnancy in which the virus is contracted, so much so that the risk of complications is greater if one is infected during the first three months of life.

Diagnosis and course of the disease

Being able to diagnose Cytomegalovirus infection is not always easy since, most of the time, it is asymptomatic. In general, for healthy individuals, the risks of complications are low and no treatments are necessary, but we are faced with infection in the presence of:

– fever and fatigue in healthy subjects
– ocular, brain or gastrointestinal infections when the immune system is weak
– diseases of the newborn

How to prevent Cytomegalovirus

In general it must be said that preventing Cytomegalovirus contagion is practically impossible, both because the infection is asymptomatic and because of the great spread of the virus. However, if you discover that you are sick, the first thing to do is to limit the infection, avoiding contact with other people, especially children.

It is very important to be careful with used diapers or pads, pacifiers, bottles or toys that can end up in your mouth. In any case, if you are pregnant, an excellent method to avoid contagion is to follow the classic names of personal hygiene and cleanliness, at the table, in the kitchen, at home and in shared areas.

Especially women must pay attention to these behaviors, to avoid the onset of congenital cytomegalovirus. Medication use may also be considered, with CMV-specific immunoglobulin treatments avoiding transmission from mother to fetus.

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