Cytomegalovirus (CMV) in the Transplant Patient
What is Cytomegalovirus?
Cytomegalovirus is often referred to as simply CMV. CMV is a common virus that can infect
anyone of any age in the general population. Most people have had CMV by the time they reach
an adult age. It only causes mild symptoms in people with healthy immune systems. They may
feel sick for a day or two, and then feel better. Once CMV infects a person, the virus remains in
your body for life, but a healthy immune system keeps the virus inactive. However, CMV can
cause severe illness in transplant patients.
Can you prevent CMV?
You will take one of two medicines to prevent CMV infection after transplant. You will take
Valganciclovir (Valcyte®) or Acyclovir (Zovirax®) for three to six months after transplant.
This is the time when you are most at risk for CMV because your immune system is weakened as
a result of taking anti-rejection medicines but, you can develop CMV infection at any time.
How did I get CMV?
CMV was most likely already present in your body before the transplant. Because your immune
system is weakened after transplant, CMV can reproduce in your blood. You were probably
exposed at some point in your life but did not know it. It is also possible you were exposed to
CMV through your donor.
Is it contagious? Do I need to worry about spreading it to other people?
There is a good chance that the people around you have already had the virus. You do not need
to worry about spreading it to other people.
What are the symptoms of CMV?
There are many symptoms of possible CMV infection. Just because you have the symptoms
does not mean you have CMV. You could also be infected with CMV and not have any
symptoms. Contact your transplant coordinator if you have any of these symptoms:
▪ General feeling of being unwell
▪ Low white blood cell count
▪ Muscle Aches
How do you know I have it?
CMV is detected by a blood test. Your doctor or transplant coordinator will test you for CMV
when it is needed based on your symptoms. In many cases, the blood test needs to be done at the
UW HospitalWhat do I need to do about it?
There are a number of things involved in
▪ Your doctor or transplant
coordinator will probably
temporarily reduce your
This will help your own body
fight the CMV.
▪ You will be started on anti-viral
treatment to help you fight CMV.
This may be in the form of pills
or an IV medicine.
▪ You may need to be seen in the
transplant clinic within 7 to 10 days of finding out you have CMV to determine how
severe your infection is and to determine if the virus is causing damage to your lungs,
liver, eyes or gastrointestinal system
▪ You will need to do blood (lab) tests at least once a week to check the CMV levels in
How will you know it’s gone?
If you have been diagnosed with CMV, your coordinator will check your blood to see if the virus
is going away or getting stronger. We will continue to check for CMV in your blood for a period
of time after stopping the anti-viral medicines to be sure that the CMV has not come back.
Because the CMV stays in a person’s body for life, it is possible to have CMV more than once.
If I have CMV, will my transplant be ok?
Although CMV can affect your transplant and other systems in your body, your doctor and
coordinator will watch the virus closely. CMV can spread to multiple organ systems in your
body. If left unchecked, it can be very serious. Most often, the anti-viral treatment is able to get
rid of the virus before it causes a serious problem.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©2/2016. University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6838.