Cytomegalovirus infection (patient information)

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Cytomegalovirus infection (patient information)


What are the symptoms?

What are the causes


Treatment options

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a virus found around the world. It is related to the viruses that cause chickenpox and infectious mononucleosis (mono). Between 50 percent and 80 percent of adults in the United States have had a CMV infection by age 40. Once CMV is in a person's body, it stays there for life. CMV is spread through close contact with body fluids. Most people with CMV don't get sick and don't know that they've been infected. But infection with the virus can be serious in babies and people with weak immune systems. If a woman gets CMV when she is pregnant, she can pass it on to her baby. Usually the babies do not have health problems. But some babies can develop lifelong disabilities.

What are the symptoms of cytomegalovirus infection

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
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Malaise
  • Muscle aches
  • Rash
  • Sore throat

Depending on which part of the body is affected by CMV, symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Hives
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Jaundice
  • Neck stiffness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen spleen and liver

What are the causes of Cytomegalovirus infection?

Cytomegalovirus infection is a viral infection caused by cytomegalovirus. Infection with CMV is very common. The infection is spread by:

  • Blood transfusions
  • Organ transplants
  • Respiratory droplets
  • Saliva
  • Sexual contact
  • Urine
  • Tears
  • 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.


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)

What to expect(Outlook/Prognosis)

Throat infection is the most common complication. Rare complications include:

  • Colitis
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Nervous system (neurologic) complications
  • Pericarditis or myocarditis
  • Pneumonia
  • Rupture of the spleen
  • Inflammation of liver (hepatitis)


  • 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.


  • 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.