Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is the most common form of the herpes virus to be passed onto babies during pregnancy as congenital CMV. Although some babies are very ill when they are born, the majority of babies born with congenital CMV won’t show any symptoms at birth but will develop complications later on. The severity of infection depends largely on the point at which a mother becomes infected with the virus during her pregnancy. CMV can be spread through saliva, urine, feces, blood, tears, breast milk, semen and vaginal fluids. Symptoms of CMV carriers include weakened immune systems, sore throats, fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, fever and/or swollen glands. In many cases CMV symptoms tend to mimic those of mononucleosis.
Should a pregnant woman already be infected with the virus before falling pregnant, her body will have already developed antibodies for CMV. It is far less likely for a pregnant woman to pass on the virus to her baby should she already be infected or if she experiences a recurring and/or reactivating infection.
Should a pregnant woman become infected with the CMV virus during pregnancy for the first time, these risks are much larger. CMV babies usually contract the virus at birth or by being breast-fed. Babies who are infected with CMV in the womb may develop jaundice, an enlarged spleen or liver, rashes, central nervous system abnormalities, stunted growth, and possible death. Surviving babies with congenital CMV could suffer from mental retardation, neurological problems, vision problems and possible hearing loss.
There is a blood test available that screens for CMV, but it is not a typical test that is administered unless carriers show associated symptoms or ultrasound abnormalities that are associated with the infection. Like many other infections of its kind, pregnant women who are planning on becoming pregnant or already are should try to avoid becoming infected by CMV by washing their hands regularly, not sharing food, utensils or drinking glasses and practicing safe sex if not practicing monogamy.