What is cytomegalovirus? CMV rarely causes problems during pregnancy. However, it is still a cause of concern for pregnant women. Learn all about it.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a genus of herpesvirus that is found within the Betaherpesvirinae subfamily. It usually affects the salivary glands of the person, but are only considered lethal in those who are immunocompromised or in fetuses during pregnancy.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, 50% to 80% of adults in this country have contracted the infection at some point in their life. Also, you contract the virus, it remains in you forever.

How does this pathogen affect newborns? What is the severity of this clinical picture in babies?

What is cytomegalovirus and why is it a concern in pregnancy?

Seroconversion due to primary infection during pregnancy has a prevalence of 1% to 7%, according to studies.

Do not panic. This does not mean that all babies in contact with cytomegalovirus are in danger and, to prove it, we present the following information:

The fetal transmission rate during the first trimester is 36%. The percentage of symptomatic babies who become infected at this stage is 25%.

In the second trimester of pregnancy, the percentage of transmission if the mother is infected increases up to 40%. Here only 5-10% of babies have symptoms.

The fetal transmission rate during the third trimester is 65%. From 28 weeks of gestation, even those who get the virus are asymptomatic.

What does all this mean? Well, even if a mother has the virus in the first trimester of pregnancy, there is less than a 40% probability that she will transmit it to her baby and, in addition, only 1 in 4 of infants infected at this stage will present symptom.

Even though the transmission rate increases over time, this is still not an issue, since almost all babies are asymptomatic after a certain point during pregnancy. Therefore, estimations are that only 10-15% of infected newborns as a whole develop symptoms. You need to provide this data to put the situation in perspective.

How does the mother transmit it to the baby?

The mother can transmit the virus to the child transplacentally, that is, through the blood that connects the fetus and the mother. In any case, the probability of transmission is much higher when the infection is acquired during pregnancy (50%) than when it is reactivated (2%) in the mother.

On the other hand, adults are usually infected by contact with fluids such as saliva, urine, blood, feces, vaginal discharge, semen, among others. Babies can contract the virus during the time of delivery or through breast milk, although this is not a significant clinical problem.

In a nutshell: only 1 in 10 children with CMV will exhibit some type of symptom.

Symptoms of cytomegalovirus infection

As we have already reiterated, the majority of newborn children are asymptomatic despite having been infected, especially if this event has happened during the third trimester. Even so, these are the signs that may appear:

  • Premature birth.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice).
  • Purple spots on the skin and other rashes.
  • Abnormally small head (microencephaly).
  • Enlarged spleen.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Seizures.

Adults with compromised immune systems can also develop severe symptoms from the virus. The virus can affect organs such as the lungs, liver, eyes, brain and digestive system in these people.

How can to treat it?

Cytomegalovirus, in both adults and babies, can be treated, but this is almost never necessary. In infants with symptoms, doctors prescribe them intravenous (IV) or oral antiviral medications, depending on their needs.

Keep in mind that while these drugs can delay the multiplication of the virus, but do not eliminate it. It is the newborn’s immune system that must fight the infection. To date, new routes are being studied to combat this pathogen, as there are no effective vaccines to prevent it.

What precautions can I take?

According to the CDC, doctors do not examine pregnant women for cytomegalovirus, as the presence of the pathogen in the mother does not guarantee contagion to the baby.

Even so, you can take certain precautions to avoid infection during or after childbirth. Among them, we find the following:

  • Wash hands frequently: especially if one of the parents is going to come into contact with the baby or with her hygiene material.
  • Avoid contact of saliva and tears between the parents and the infant.
  • Clean toys and all elements of the newborn’s environment regularly.
  • Practice safe sex, as the virus can be spread through sexual contact.
  • Nappy area skin care.
  • When having contact with the baby, practice proper hygiene, as it is essential to avoid this type of infection.

A virus that is rarely a problem

With all this set of statistics and percentages, we have wanted to demonstrate scientifically that cytomegalovirus in pregnancy is almost never a problem. Very few babies are infected, and of those who do, only 1 in 10 develops symptoms of it. For this reason, there is no need to worry about more.

Anyway, it never hurts to take precautions during and after pregnancy, not only because of cytomegalovirus, but also because of other pathogens that the mother can easily transmit to the newborn.

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