Symptoms of cytomegalovirus (CMV) 

The symptoms of cytomegalovirus (CMV) depend on the type of infection you have.

The main types of infection are:

  • primary CMV – where someone develops a CMV infection for the first time
  • CMV re-infection – an infection with a different strain of the virus from the primary infection
  • recurring CMV – a previously inactive CMV infection in the body is reactivated
  • congenital CMV – a CMV infection that develops when a woman is pregnant and infects the unborn baby 

Primary CMV

Most cases of primary CMV cause no symptoms. You may not even realise you have the infection.

If you do experience symptoms, they will be similar to flu symptoms or symptoms of glandular fever and can include:

  • a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • extreme tiredness
  • sore throat
  • swollen glands
  • muscle and joint pain
  • loss of appetite

These symptoms should only last for a couple of weeks.

CMV re-infection

If you are re-infected with a different strain of the CMV virus, you may not have any symptoms, or you may have flu-like symptoms similar to a primary CMV infection.

Recurring CMV

If CMV recurs in someone who is otherwise healthy, including during pregnancy, it will cause few, if any, symptoms.

A CMV infection that recurs in someone with a weakened immune system can cause a wide range of symptoms. This is because the virus can quickly spread throughout the body, damaging one or more of your organs – particularly the digestive system, lungs and eyes.

Symptoms of recurring CMV include:

  • a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • diarrhoea 
  • shortness of breath
  • visual disturbances – such as blind spots, blurring and floaters (a black spot or "web" that appears to be floating in your field of vision)
  • pneumonia – swelling (inflammation) of the tissue in your lungs
  • retinitis – inflammation of the retina (the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of your eyes)
  • hepatitis – inflammation of the liver

If you have a weakened immune system and have one or more of the symptoms above, contact your GP or treatment team immediately.

Congenital CMV

Around 13% of babies born with congenital CMV will have symptoms at birth. In addition, another 14% of babies who experience no symptoms at birth (known as an asymptomatic congenital CMV infection) will develop problems at a later stage.

Some of the problems congenital CMV can cause at birth and later on are described below.

Symptoms at birth

Symptoms of congenital CMV at birth can include:

While some of these symptoms can be treated, some babies will develop long-term conditions as a result of the infection.

Later and long-term problems

A small proportion of babies with congenital CMV (including those with no symptoms at birth) will also develop one or more physical or mental disabilities at a later stage. These can include:

Hearing loss caused by congenital CMV may develop during their first few years of an affected baby's life. This usually gets worse over time. It can also be permanent and can range from mild to total.

The hearing problems can affect either one or both ears. Children with hearing loss in both ears are also likely to experience difficulties with speech and communication as they get older.

CMV infection is responsible for around 25% of cases of childhood hearing loss.

Page last reviewed: 07/11/2012

Next review due: 07/11/2014