CMV: An STD You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Cytomegalo-what?!! Cytomegalovirus (pronounced: sigh toe meg a low vy russ), aka CMV, is just another shockingly common STD you’ve probably never heard of. Planned Parenthood estimates 40% of kids get CMV before puberty and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 50 to 80% of the U.S. population will get CMV before they reach 40 years old.

Why so many people? Because CMV is extremely easy to spread through body fluids: saliva, urine, semen, vaginal secretions, breast milk, or blood. This means you can get it from sexual and non-sexual behavior. People can get it from blood transfusions and organ transplants, and women with CMV can spread it to their baby during or after pregnancy because of the shared fluids. Approximately 50 to 70% of women have been infected with CMV. About a third of women that become infected for the first time during pregnancy will spread the infection to their child, while women that had CMV before they got pregnant have a 1% chance of spreading CMV to their baby during pregnancy. Here are some tips for pregnant women wanting to reduce their risk of exposure to CMV as well as exposure to their fetus.

Number of babies affected by congenital CMV

Find a larger version of the above image here.

Part of the herpes family, CMV shares a similarity with its more well-known relative: once you’ve got CMV, it’s in your body for life (i.e. it’s not curable). Often times most healthy people – both children and adults – have no symptoms.  People that do get symptoms may experience fever, sore throat, fatigue, and swollen glands. People with weakened immune systems may develop serious illnesses because of CMV, including blindness and mental disorders (read more about that here).

A blood test can tell you if you’ve got CMV, though there are no current treatments for it. At the moment research is being done on a vaccine. The Institute of Medicine has actually ranked the development of a CMV vaccine as one of its highest priorities; it will take many years though, before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve it though.

Even abstaining from sex is no guarantee that you will not get CMV, however, because most adults get CMV from sexual contact, having fewer sex partners may reduce your chances of getting it.

Further reading:

CMV Is a Greater Threat to Infants Than Zika, but Far Less Often Discussed