Babies Born with Congenital Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

When a baby is born with cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, it is called congenital CMV. Most babies with congenital CMV never show signs or have health problems. However, some babies have health problems at birth or that develop later.

Signs and Symptoms
baby sleeping on mother's chest

Some babies with congenital CMV infection have signs at birth, such as: 

  • Rash
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes)
  • Microcephaly (small head)
  • Low birth weight
  • Hepatosplenomegaly (enlarged liver and spleen)
  • Seizures
  • Retinitis (damaged eye retina)

Some babies with signs of congenital CMV infection at birth can have long-term health problems, such as:

  • Hearing loss
  • Developmental and motor delay
  • Vision loss
  • Microcephaly (small head)
  • Seizures

Some babies can have hearing loss at birth or can develop it later, even babies who passed the newborn hearing test or didn’t have any other sings at birth.  

CMV is the most common infectious cause of birth defects in the United States. About 1 out of 200 babies is born with congenital CMV.

One out of 5 babies with congenital CMV will have symptoms or long-term health problems, such as hearing loss.

In the most severe cases, CMV can cause pregnancy loss. 

How Does CMV Spread
Pregnant woman researching CMV on cell phone

Most people with CMV infection have no symptoms and aren’t aware that they have been infected. If you are pregnant and get infected with CMV, you can pass the virus to your baby during pregnancy. This can happen when you are infected with CMV for the first time or again during pregnancy.

Young children are a common source of CMV

By the age of 5 years, one in three children has been infected with CMV, but usually does not have symptoms. The virus can stay in a child’s body fluids like saliva and urine for months after the infection. People who are around young children a lot are at greater risk of CMV infection.

Parents and childcare providers can lower their risk of getting CMV by reducing contact with saliva (spit) and urine from babies and young children.

  • Do not share food, utensils, or cups with a child.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after changing diapers or helping a child to use the toilet.
Diagnosis

Congenital CMV infection can be diagnosed by testing a newborn baby’s urine (preferred specimen), saliva, or blood. These specimens must be collected for testing within 2 to 3 weeks after the baby is born to confirm a diagnosis of congenital CMV infection.

Treatment

For babies with signs of congenital CMV infection at birth, antiviral medications (primarily valganciclovir) might improve hearing and developmental outcomes. Valganciclovir can have serious side effects and has only been studied in babies with signs of congenital CMV infection. There is limited information on the effectiveness of valganciclovir to treat infants with hearing loss alone.