Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School


What Is It?

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a virus related to the herpes virus. It is so common that almost all adults in developing countries and 50% to 85% of adults in the United States have been infected.

Usually CMV is a mild disease that does not cause any serious problems in healthy children and adults. Most people get flu-like symptoms or an illness similar to mononucleosis, if they develop symptoms at all.

Being infected with this virus can be serious and even fatal in some people, however, including:

  • People receiving chemotherapy for cancer

  • People with diseases that suppress the immune system, such as AIDS

  • People who have received organ or bone marrow transplants

  • Newborn babies of women infected with CMV during pregnancy

Women infected with CMV for the first time during pregnancy can pass the virus to their unborn babies in the womb. The virus can also pass from mother to baby in vaginal secretions during delivery and in breast milk after birth. The virus can pass from person to person through close personal contact, sexual contact, blood transfusion or organ transplantation.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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