Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a herpes-type virus. It is related to the virus that causes chickenpox.
Infection with CMV is very common. It is spread by saliva, urine, respiratory droplets, sexual contact, and blood transfusions. Most people are exposed at some point, but most of the time the virus produces mild or no symptoms in healthy people.
Serious CMV infections can occur in people with weakened immune systems due to:
Chemotherapy treatment for cancer
Immune-suppressing medicines following an organ transplant
Inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
Rarely, serious CMV infection involving the GI tract has occurred in people with a healthy immune system.
The following increase your risk for CMV gastroenteritis/colitis:
Bone marrow or organ transplant
Medications that suppress the immune system
Gastrointestinal CMV disease may affect one area or the entire body. Ulcers can occur in the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, or colon. Such ulcers are associated with symptoms such as:
Difficulty swallowing or pain with swallowing
When the intestines are involved, the ulcers may cause:
Another blood test that looks for the presence and number of virus particles in the blood can also be done.
Treatment is meant to control the infection and relieve symptoms.
Medicines to fight the virus (antiviral medications) are prescribed. The medicines may be given through a vein (IV), and sometimes by mouth, for several weeks. The most commonly used medicines are ganciclovir and valganciclovir.
In some cases, long-term therapy may be needed. A medication called CMV hyperimmune globulin may be used when other drugs don't work.
Other medications may include:
Drugs to prevent or reduce diarrhea
Nutritional supplements or nutrition given through a vein (IV) may be used to treat muscle loss due to the disease.
In people with a healthy immune system, symptoms go away without treatment in most cases.
Symptoms are more severe in those with a weakened immune system. The outcome depends on how severe the immune system deficiency and the CMV infection are.
People with AIDS may have a worse outcome than those with a weakened immune system due to another reason.
CMV infection typically affects the entire body, even if only gastrointestinal symptoms are present. How well a patient does depends on how well the antiviral drugs work.
The drugs used to fight the virus may cause side effects. The type of side effect depends on the specific drug used. For example, the drug ganciclovir may lower your white blood cell count. Another drug, foscarnet, may lead to kidney problems.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of CMV gastroenteritis/colitis.
There is a high risk of CMV infection in people who receive an organ transplant from a CMV-positive donor. Taking the antiviral drugs ganciclovir (Cytovene) and valganciclovir (Valcyte) by mouth before the transplant can lower your chance of getting a new infection or reactivating an old infection.
People with AIDS who are effectively treated with highly active antiretroviral therapy are much less likely to get a CMV infection.
Wilcox GM. Gastrointestinal consequences of infection with human immunodeficiency virus. In: Feldman M, Freidman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 33.
Larson AM, McDonald GB. Gastrointestinal and hepatic complications of solid organ and hematopoietic cell transplantation. In: Feldman M, Freidman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 34.
Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.