What is cytomegaly?

Cytomegaly is a viral infection caused by the cytomegalovirus (CMV). The virus is a member of the herpes virus family. After a primary (or first) CMV infection the virus, like all herpes viruses, remains in the person’s body for a lifetime and usually without any consequences, as for instance the pathogen of chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus (VZV).

The cytomegalovirus is one of eight human herpes viruses (HHV) and is also called herpes virus 5 (HHV 5). The name “cytomegalo” derives from the nature of the virus which causes a characteristic enlargement in infected human cells (Greek: kytos = cell, megalo = big). The virus was discovered only comparatively recently in the 1950s. Until today no German term (could be) has been established for this disease.

The infection usually is accompanied by only a few or no symptoms in infected children and adults. However, in unborn children, in premature infants, and also in individuals with immunity disorders (e. g. in organ-transplant recipients, in individuals with AIDS or tumourous diseases) it can, in rare cases, cause a serious course of disease.

The cytomegalovirus is widespread throughout the world. Between 50 and 80 percent of the population in industrial countries are infected with CMV, as we know from antibody analysis. In some parts of Africa or Asia the rate of infection even reaches 100 percent.

The incidence of the virus is also closely connected to the population density and to living conditions. Middle- and upper-class women, therefore, contract the virus less often. For this reason, their risk of becoming infected for the first time prior or during pregnancy is greater than for women of other social classes. After going through a cytomegalovirus infection, the majority of women is largely protected from a new infection.

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