Child touching mom's pregnant belly

What Child Care Providers Should Know About Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

What is cytomegalovirus?
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common infection caused by a virus. Most people get infected during their life, but do not have any symptoms or have just mild symptoms.

Some people get very sick from CMV infections, such as:

  • People who have a weakened immune system 
  • People who are pregnant, because CMV can harm the fetus
  • Infants born premature or at a very low weight

Who gets CMV and how?
People get CMV infections from direct contact with body fluids. Examples of body fluids are saliva, blood, and urine. Diaper changing, feeding, bathing, and other activities can spread CMV.  CMV can also spread from a pregnant person to a baby before, during, or after birth (through breastfeeding). 

What are the symptoms of CMV?
A child with CMV may have:

  • Fever
  • Body aches and weakness
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
  • Enlarged liver or spleen

Many children do not have symptoms of CMV infections. However, CMV can be severe, even life-threatening, for people with weakened immune systems and premature infants.

Is CMV dangerous for people who are pregnant?
If a person is infected with CMV while they are pregnant, there is a risk they will transmit the CMV virus through their blood to the fetus. In some cases this can be harmful to the fetus.  It can cause delays in development, hearing loss, and other birth defects.

The best thing is to try to prevent congenital CMV infections.

  • People who are pregnant should avoid direct contact with children’s saliva and body fluids. Consider working with children ages 3 and older. 
  • Staff who are pregnant or expecting to become pregnant should consult with their health care provider about their occupational health risks.

Should children with CMV stay home?
Most children with CMV do not need to stay home from child care. It is so common, that there are probably other children with CMV in the child care program. Keep children home if they do not feel well enough to participate or if they require more care than can be provided without impacting the care of the other children.

Most children infected with CMV get better on their own. Families should check with their child’s health care provider if they have questions or concerns about their child’s symptoms.

Tips to reduce the risk of CMV

Practicing healthy habits can reduce the risk CMV infections since people can be contagious for a short time or for weeks. There are no vaccines for CMV.

Follow standard precautions for child care settings to avoid CMV exposure, including the following:

  • Practice good handwashing.
  • Wash hands after contact with a child's pacifier and do not place a child's pacifier in your own mouth.
  • Wear gloves and wash hands for diaper changes and contact with body fluids.
  • Teach children to cough into their elbow and away from people.
  • Wipe noses with clean tissues, dispose of them properly, and wash your hands.
  • Do not allow children to share food, bottles, toothbrushes, eating utensils, drinking cups, or mouthed toys.
  • Do not allow children to place their hands, fingers, or objects contaminated with saliva (toys, pacifiers) in anyone else's mouth.
  • Follow the routine schedule for cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting in Caring for Our Children Appendix K

Where can I get more information?

Updated March 2024, UCSF California Childcare Health Program