Everything You Need to Know About Cytomegalovirus Infection

Amanda Bullock / September 18,2022
Everything You Need to Know About Cytomegalovirus Infection

Cytomegalovirus infection is a virus belonging to the herpesvirus family that can infect anyone. It’s most serious in newborn children and immunocompromised patients.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50% of adults in their 40s are infected with the virus. Fortunately, this is a self-limiting condition in most cases, which usually disappears without treatment.

Types of cytomegalovirus

Cytomegalovirus infection can manifest itself in multiple ways:

  • Congenital cytomegalovirus: This appears in newborn children and is transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy. This is a dangerous form.
  • Primary cytomegalovirus: This appears when a person acquires the virus for the first time. The infection has multiple forms of presentation and may be asymptomatic or even resemble mononucleosis.
  • Reactivation of cytomegalovirus: The virus is capable of remaining latent. In this sense, reactivation occurs in people who have already suffered from the disease and have a depressed immune system.

Everything You Need to Know About Cytomegalovirus Infection
 

Symptoms of cytomegalovirus infection

Cytomegalovirus infection can produce many clinical manifestations. In fact, a study published in the journal Microbiology Spectrum magazine states that the spectrum can range anywhere from an asymptomatic form to severe disease in immunocompromised individuals.

The disease usually occurs without any apparent symptoms in healthy individuals. Thus, some people get it and don’t even notice it.

Others develop mild symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of appetite
  • General malaise
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes

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

  • Blind spots and blurred vision, even total blindness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms in infants

Symptoms in congenital cytomegalovirus infection are very different from those in adults. The most common clinical manifestations include the following:

  • Purple spots on the skin
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Hepatomegaly
  • Convulsions
  • 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, mainly in the blood, from where it’s able to affect the organs.

Other body 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 modes of transmission are as follows:

  • Drinking infected breast milk
  • Sexual contact with an infected person
  • Touching the eyes or mouth after contact with infected fluids
  • Transplants of infected organs, bone marrow or blood
  • Vertical transmission from mother to baby during childbirth

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of cytomegalovirus infection is made through asking the patient and physical examination. The specialist will inquire about the onset and course of symptoms. In addition, the specialist will perform a physical examination focusing on the abdomen to detect changes in the liver or spleen.

Blood and urine tests will detect the virus and thus definitively diagnose the infection. Ideally, a PCR test should be performed on the fluids. However, antibody detection and cultures are also effective.

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

Treatment of cytomegalovirus infection

Healthy people usually don’t require any treatment. This is because the body is able to control the infection on its own within 4 to 6 weeks.

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

Antivirals are the most commonly prescribed drugs. These compounds are capable of slowing viral replication, although they don’t eliminate the virus itself.

Analgesics and antipyretics help relieve symptoms.

Everything You Need to Know About Cytomegalovirus Infection
 

Possible complications

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

  • Guillain-Barré 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’s always important to be vigilant in pregnant women, newborn babies, and people with immune system problems. In these cases, it’s recommended to see a physician as soon as possible to initiate the appropriate approach.

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