CMV, or Cytomegalovirus, is a common virus that can infect people of all ages. Healthy adults and children will often have no signs or symptoms and no long-term effects from CMV. However, it can be dangerous to unborn babies if a pregnant woman catches it for the first time and passes the virus on to her unborn child.
CMV is spread from one person to another by close and prolonged contact with bodily fluids such as urine, saliva, tears, breast milk, semen and cervical secretions. You can catch CMV by kissing, through sexual intercourse, sharing cutlery, glasses, food, etc. and quite simply by touching toys a child has put in their mouth and then inadvertently putting your hand to your mouth. You cannot catch CMV by merely being in the same room with someone or cuddling them.
Once CMV is in a person’s body, it stays there for life. Whilst around 1% of children are born with it, by the age of 5 around 25% of children will have been infected. By secondary school age this will be even higher and around 80% of people will catch it at some point in their lifetime. However it is younger children that are the main risk as they tend to spread their bodily fluids around more readily. Pregnant women who have young children or work with young children should therefore be especially careful.
CMV can only be transmitted through exchange of bodily fluids, not through casual contact. Research has confirmed that the virus is deactivated by washing with soap and water. Simple hygiene precautions can therefore be used to manage risks.