What is CMV?

July 31, 2013

Blog written by Fairfax Laboratory Director, Michelle Ottey, PhD.

Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is a member of the herpes virus family. Other examples of conditions related to herpes family viruses are chicken pox and cold sores. CMV is carried by many individuals, approximately 50-85% of American adults will test CMV positive, confirming exposure, typically childhood exposure and a mild infection similar to a typical cold. The immune system develops antibodies to fight the infection; the virus remains alive, but becomes dormant, hiding inside certain cells for the rest of the person’s lifetime.

The virus may reactivate in some individuals and be transmitted in bodily fluids, including semen. This is very common in people with immune suppression or individuals that have only recently been exposed to the virus. CMV can spread person to person through body fluids. If infected, an individual may never have any symptoms or they may develop symptoms such as mild flu-like illness, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue. The active infection typically resolves itself in a healthy person in one to two weeks.

If a woman is infected it is possible to transmit CMV to the fetus either through the placenta or through exposure to her infected cervical secretions during birth. Pregnant women who are infected for the first time during pregnancy usually recover completely with few or no symptoms. The unborn baby is at risk for congenital infection, and this occurs in approximately 1/3 of women who are infected during pregnancy. Congenital CMV is the most common congenital infection in the US. Twenty percent of babies born with an infection develop medical complications over the first few years of life. Those symptoms can include low birth weight, deafness, blindness, mental retardation, small head, seizures, jaundice, brittle teeth and damage to the liver and spleen. While a child may develop some of the above symptoms, no baby develops all the symptoms and some infants have no symptoms at all.

If you are CMV negative you should choose a CMV negative sperm donor. You may use a CMV positive donor, but you should consult with your physician and discuss the possible risks. If you are CMV positive you can choose either a CMV negative or positive sperm donor.

All Sperm Donors must be tested periodically for CMV Antibody. Fairfax Cryobank also tests our CMV positive donors using Nucleic Acid Testing (NAT) technology to ensure that the donor sperm from the CMV Antibody positive donors was not produced during a recent infection. If the recent infection cannot be ruled out, specimens are discarded and not distributed.

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