Cytomegalovirus is a very common virus, better known as CMV. It belongs to the herpes family and often goes unnoticed... However, it should not be overlooked: in fact, it is the virus most responsible for infections transmitted from mother to child l. Why is it so common? What are the causes, symptoms and treatments? We explain!
What is cytomegalovirus?
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a viral micro-organism found only in humans. In fact, it is the most common infection transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy.
CMV belongs to a family of viruses known as herpes viruses. Other diseases in this family include herpes simplex, Epstein-Barr and chickenpox or shingles.
It is estimated that 50-60% of women of childbearing age have already been in contact with CMV. This means they are immune, even if it doesn't prevent secondary infection and they are not protected.
What are the symptoms of cytomegalovirus?
In the vast majority of cases, lCMV infection is asymptomatic.
However, when present, symptoms are very similar to those of the flu, with fever, fatigue, aches and pains, sore throat and headaches. However, the duration of the effects of the disease is longer than that of the flu: from 2 to 12 weeks. People are contagious until they are in complete remission.
Don't worry: for healthy adults, complications are rare. In children, the virus often takes the form of a cold. When it manifests itself in a more severe form, it's time to see a doctor.
What are the origins of CMV infection?
CMV is transmitted from human to human. It is transmitted through body secretions: saliva, urine, breast milk, nasal secretions, blood and intimate secretions. Contamination occurs through contact with secretions containing the virus. It is contagious and often infects young children.
Risk for people in contact with children
The risk is all the greater for people in contact with children, such as nursery workers.
Why is cytomegalovirus dangerous during pregnancy?
The virus can be dangerous during pregnancy. Indeed, if a pregnant woman contracts the virus for the first time during her pregnancy, the infection can be dangerous for the baby.
Note that there is also a risk s s 'in the case of reinfection or reactivation in a woman who was previously immune.
CMV is not inevitable: even if you contract it, your baby will not necessarily be affected. Estimates tell us that in around 40% of cases, the fetus is also contaminated. In this case, we speak of congenital CMV infection. This equates to 1,500 cases a year.
Another reassuring figure: in 80% of cases, infected children show no symptoms. 10% will have a severe prenatal infection (i.e. microcephaly, hydrocephaly or intracranial calcifications), while 10% will be apparently healthy at birth, but will unfortunately suffer neurosensory sequelae later in life.
The risk to the fetus is greatest in early pregnancy, when the consequences of infection can lead to more serious sequelae.
How do I get tested for cytomegalovirus?
There is no automatic organized screening in European countries (including France). The only things that are recommended are hygiene measures, to reduce the risk of contracting CMV infection during pregnancy .
However, a diagnosis can be made if you present symptoms typical of the virus, such as fever, severe fatigue, joint pain, malaise, etc.
If the pregnant woman shows abnormalities on ultrasound that are suggestive of the virus, or if there is a CMV infection in her family or friends.
The test used to determine whether a person has contracted CMV is a serological diagnosis, which detects the presence of IgG and IgM antibodies in a blood sample taken during pregnancy.
Positive CMV result: what to do?
If the result of the blood test shows CMV infection, an amniocentesis can be performed. This will detect whether the CMV virus is present in the amniotic fluid. SIf it is not detected, then the mother can rest assured. If, on the other hand, the virus is detected, the mother will be closely monitored by a medical team, with monthly ultrasound scans to detect any abnormalities.
If ultrasound scans do not reveal the presence of any anomalies, then the pregnancy can continue as normal. If abnormalities are found, the decision whether or not to consider a medical abortion rests with the parents.
How is CMV infection treated?
At present, there is no specific treatment or vaccine to cure the infection. For this reason, mass screening is not an option, except before or during pregnancy for those at risk. The best solution at present remains prevention of the virus.
Cytomegalovirus prevention: what are the barrier gestures?
To prevent the transmission of cytomegalovirus, the best thing to do is to apply barrier measures and strict hygiene practices, and to reinforce information. These include
- Regular hand washing, especially when changing a child (before and after changing diapers, which contain baby's urine).
- Regularly wash baby toys
- Don't taste baby food with the same spoon
- Do not share baby's toiletries
- Do not bathe with them (as there is a risk of contamination through urine).
- In general, avoid contact with fluids that potentially carry the virus: saliva, tears and urine.
These recommendations are particularly applicable to pregnant women, who are in contact with children aged 3 or under in their family or professional environment, and who are in a group childcare setting.
CMV pregnancy FAQs
Does cytomegalovirus immunity protect the fetus?
It is estimated that 50-60% of women of childbearing age have already been in contact with CMV. They are immune, but it is possible for a secondary infection to develop. Limmunity is not protective.
Is CMV contagious?
CMV is a highly contagious virus, and the most common maternal-fetal infection l. It is transmitted from mother to fetus. Women with the virus are contagious, but this is not serious in adults. It should be monitored in infants.
How can you tell if your fetus is infected with CMV?
If you've tested positive for CMV and wonder whether your fetus has been contaminated, you can have an amniocentesis.