Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is a disease caused by a type of herpes virus.
CMV mononucleosis; Cytomegalovirus; CMV; Human cytomegalovirus; HCMV
Infection with CMV is very common. The infection is spread by:
- Blood transfusions
- Organ transplants
- Respiratory droplets
- Sexual contact
Most people come into contact with CMV in their lifetime. But usually, it's people with a weakened immune system, such as those with HIV/AIDS, who become ill from CMV infection. Some otherwise healthy people with CMV infection develop a mononucleosis-like syndrome.
CMV is a type of herpes virus. All herpes viruses remain in your body for the rest of your life. If your immune system becomes weakened in the future, this virus may have the chance to reactivate, causing symptoms.
Many people are exposed to CMV early in life, but do not realize it because they have no symptoms, or they have mild symptoms that resemble the common cold. These may include:
- Enlarged lymph nodes, especially in the neck
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
Depending on which part of the body is affected by CMV, symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Neck stiffness
- Rapid heart rate
- Sensitivity to light
- Shortness of breath
- Swollen spleen and liver
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and feel your belly area. Your liver and spleen may be tender when they are gently pressed (palpated). You may have a skin rash.
Special lab tests such as a CMV DNA serum PCR test may be done to check for presence of substances in your blood produced by CMV. Tests, such as a CMV antibody test, may be done to check the body's immune response to the CMV infection.
Other tests may include:
- Blood tests for platelets and white blood cells
- Chemistry panel
- Liver function tests
- Mono spot test (to distinguish from mono infection)
Most people recover in 4 to 6 weeks without medicine. Rest is needed, sometimes for a month or longer to regain full activity levels. Painkillers and warm salt-water gargles can help relieve symptoms.
Antiviral medicines are usually not used in people with healthy immune function.
Outcome is good with treatment. The symptoms may be relieved in a few weeks to months.
Throat infection is the most common complication. Rare complications include:
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Nervous system (neurologic) complications
- Pericarditis or myocarditis
- Rupture of the spleen
- Inflammation of liver (hepatitis)
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your provider if you have symptoms of CMV infection.
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have sharp, severe sudden pain in your left upper abdomen. This could be a sign of a ruptured spleen, which may require emergency surgery.
CMV infection can be contagious if the infected person comes in close or intimate contact with another person. You should avoid kissing and sexual contact with an infected person.
The virus may also spread among young children in day care settings.
When planning blood transfusions or organ transplants, the CMV status of the donor can be checked to avoid passing CMV to a recipient who has not had CMV infection.
Crumpacker CS. Cytomegalovirus (CMV). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 140.
Drew WL. Cytomegalovirus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 376.
Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.