How symptomless herpes virus can harm newborns, organ transplants & HIV patients

New Delhi: Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common and symptomless herpes virus that can cause serious harm to newborn babies and people with impaired immune systems like organ transplant and HIV patients, said experts here on Saturday.

CMV belongs to the herpes virus family and can infect people of all ages. It spreads through body fluids and usually remains dormant, causing no symptoms or a mild illness characterized by fever, sore throat, fatigue, or swollen glands.

But it can prove to be risky for some people. CMV is the most commonly transmitted virus to a developing fetus.

In people with weaker immune systems, CMV can produce serious symptoms affecting the eyes, lungs, oesophagus, intestines, stomach, or liver.

“If a pregnant woman contracts CMV for the first time during pregnancy (primary infection), there is a risk of transmitting the virus to the unborn baby. This can result in congenital CMV infection, which may cause developmental problems, hearing loss, vision impairment, and other serious health issues in the baby,” Dr Neha Rastogi Panda, Consultant-Infectious Diseases, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, told.

“CMV is a common virus that infects over 90 percent of the Indian population during pregnancy (intrauterine) or early childhood. While typically harmless in healthy individuals, CMV can become a serious threat to people with HIV/AIDS or those undergoing organ transplants (especially kidney and bone marrow). In these cases, the virus can reactivate and cause a range of health problems,” added Dr Rajeev Gupta, Director – Internal Medicine at the CK Birla Hospital (R), Delhi.

CMV in people with low immunity on steroids, cancer, and dialysis can reactivate and cause symptoms like fever, pneumonia, gastrointestinal symptoms, and visual effects and problems.

Dr. Neha said that CMV is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in people with weakened immune systems.

While there is no widely available vaccine specifically to prevent the initial infection with CMV, antiviral medications administered during organ transplant procedures significantly reduce the risk of CMV reactivation.

The doctors called for maintaining hygiene by washing hands regularly, practicing safe sex, not sharing items like toothbrushes, and avoiding contact with bodily fluids.

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