Published on June 10, 2016

Cytomegalovirus in Newborns: The Facts

By Tracy Shevell, MD

Newborn Baby and NurseCytomegalovirus (commonly known as CMV) can be a devastating illness, affecting as many as 1 in every 150 babies per year with long-term and severe effects. The virus comes from herpes and can be transmitted from a newly infected pregnant woman to her unborn child. In fact, babies affected with CMV may very well appear healthy at birth without any symptoms or problems for up to two years.

How is CMV spread?

  • To the fetus during pregnancy (congenital CMV)
  • To the newborn during delivery or through breast milk (perinatal CMV)
  • In households with young children and in daycare centers
  • By contact with infected saliva, urine, vaginal fluid, or semen

What are the symptoms of CMV in newborns?

  • Hearing loss. It may be found during regular newborn hearing screening.
  • Small size, including small head size
  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • Yellow color to skin (jaundice)
  • Small broken blood vessels under the skin
  • Eye problems

Babies with perinatal CMV may not have symptoms. Signs and symptoms may develop between 3 weeks and 6 months of age. They may include:

  • Abnormal blood test results. For example, the results may show low platelet levels, low white blood cell counts, or abnormal liver function.
  • Enlarged liver and spleen
  • Swelling (inflammation) of the lungs (pneumonitis)

How can CMV be prevented?

Increased public awareness can help educate pregnant mothers about simple measures to prevent exposure if they have never had the virus, and can show if they are already immune. Also, ultrasound surveillance can help increase detection and help to target fetuses that may be at risk for contracting the virus from their mothers. With close screening and heightened awareness, many babies can ideally be targeted for new and constantly improving techniques to reduce harm from CMV even while the baby remains in utero.