Cytomegalovirus (CMV) - Prevention 

Preventing cytomegalovirus (CMV) 

It is not always possible to prevent a cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, but you can take some steps to reduce the risk.

Most people do not need to worry about preventing CMV, as it often causes no symptoms. However, you should be more careful it you are at a risk of more serious problems.

Pregnant women, newborn babies, people receiving an organ transplant or people with a weakened immune system are at an increased risk of serious problems.

Good hygiene

Maintaining high levels of hygiene is a simple measure that may help prevent a CMV infection spreading. For example, always wash your hands with soap and warm water:

  • before preparing, serving or eating food
  • after going to the toilet
  • after changing a baby’s nappy
  • after you have come into contact with any bodily fluids, such as semen or urine

Clean any surfaces that have come into contact with any body fluids and wear disposable gloves while doing this.

Pregnant women

CMV infections are common in young children. If you are pregnant, you can reduce your risk of infection with some simple steps, such as:

  • wash your hands regularly using soap and hot water, particularly if you have been changing nappies, you work in a nursery or day-care centre
  • you should not kiss young children on the face – it is better to kiss them on the head or give them a hug
  • do not share food or eating utensils with young children, or drink from the same glass as them

These precautions are particularly important if you have a job that brings you into close contact with young children. In this case, you can have a blood test to find out whether you have previously been infected with CMV.

CMV is usually only dangerous to the baby if the pregnant mother has not previously had the infection at some point in her life.

Organ transplants

CMV used to be one of the main causes of illness and death during the first six months after having an organ transplant. However, antiviral medicines have proved very effective in preventing CMV infections in people who have received transplants.

Therefore, it is likely that you will be given antiviral medicines to help prevent a CMV infection developing if you are having an organ transplant.

Weakened immune system 

You may have a weakened immune system if you have HIV or are undergoing chemotherapy to treat cancer. Your immune system is the body's natural defence system against infection and illness, if it is weakened, you will be more vulnerable to infections, including CMV.

As well as maintaining a high level of hygiene, you can help prevent infections developing by:

  • having daily showers or baths and washing your clothes, towels and bed linen regularly 
  • avoiding contact with people who have serious infections, such as chickenpox or flu
  • taking extra care not to cut or graze your skin – if you do, clean the area thoroughly with warm water, dry it and cover it with a sterile dressing
  • eating a healthy diet that includes lots of fresh fruit and vegetables
  • resting when you need to

Contact your GP if you are have a weakened immune system and you think you may have an infection, for example if you have a high temperature of 38oC (100.4oF) or above.

Read more about the side effects of chemotherapy and living with HIV.

Vaccination

Possible vaccinations for CMV are being researched. 

One possible vaccine is aimed at young women. The theory is that vaccinating women before they become pregnant could reduce the risk of congenital CMV.

Another possible vaccine is aimed at people having organ transplants. The aim is to prevent the donated organ causing a new CMV infection or reactivating an existing CMV infection in the person who receives the transplant.

Due to the stringent safety checks that all new medicines and vaccinations have to go through, it will be several years before routine vaccinations against CMV become available.


Page last reviewed: 07/11/2012

Next review due: 07/11/2014

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