STD/STI: Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

If you are worried about cytomegalovirus, don’t. I decided to include CMV in this posting series because more information is good, but when it comes to CMV, there isn’t all that much you can do with the information. Nor (for most people) is there any real need to do anything.

CMV is transmitted sexually, but you wouldn’t know it to read about it on most websites. Doctors are far more worried about transmission from mother-to-child during pregnancy. Why? Because for most people (and it is estimated that about 50% of adults are infected by age 35) CMV is a silent infection. It hangs out in your body, not doing much of anything except hiding from your immune system. Unless your immune system is weakened somehow, you won’t even know you have it.

Babies, on the other hand, are born with a weakened immune system (or rather, and immune system that isn’t fully developed) and are at greater risk of actually getting sick from a CMV infection.

Prevention: Preventing CMV infection is a bitch. It is transmitted through contact between bodily fluids and mucus membranes. Like a lot of STD/STIs, right? Well, not exactly. If you shake hands with someone who is having an acute CMV flare up, then rub your itchy eyes, you can get infected. Most infections occur between 10 and 35 years old. Sexual contact is only one of the ways this infection spreads.

However, if an infected person is not having an acute flare up, standard barrier methods should work to prevent transmission during sex. Try to avoid direct contact with bodily fluids and the other person’s mucus membranes, and wash your hands when play time is over.

Treatment: Like chickenpox (CMVs close relative), once you are infected, the infection is permanent. There is no getting rid of this bugger. If an acute infection develops. the normal course is to treat the symptoms. Pain killers and salt water gargles are common recommendations.

People with severely weakened immune systems may be treated with antivirals.

Symptoms: For adults, CMV infection can take 3 forms: dormant, acute or CMV infection in immunocompromised systems. Dormant CMV is when you are infected and the virus just sits there, not doing much of anything. There are no symptoms and no problems.

In acute CMV, a generally healthy person will get a CMV flare-up when their immune system is weakened–such as when they are under a great deal of stress. Acute CMV mimics mononucleosis, with long-term malaise, swollen lymph nodes, and general aches and pains. Like mono, it can last up to 6 weeks and will clear up on its own.

CMV in immunocompromised persons can be scary. Flare-ups can cause pneumonia, encephalitis and more. Some of these dangerous manifestations of CMV are among the AIDS-defining infections

Diagnosis: CMV is usually diagnosed based on symptoms. There is a blood test available to detect the virus, but it is expensive and not widely available. During an acute flare-up a simpler blood test can detect antibodies.

Complications: In a dormant infection, complications aren’t an issue. They are rare in acute infections and usually involve the infection spreading to other areas of the body. CMV in immunocompromised persons is basically one big (and dangerous) complication, with untreated results ranging from blindness to death.
Overall, CMV is not an infection you need to really worry about unless you have HIV, recently had an organ transplant or otherwise have a compromised immune system. That said, there is around a 50% possibility that you are already infected, and getting diagnosed outside of an acute flare-up is nearly impossible. Take precautions when interacting with people who are experiencing flare-ups, and otherwise try not to stress about it.