If I Had Chickenpox, Am I CMV Positive? Understanding the Difference Between Chickenpox and CMV

May 10, 2024

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As a medical professional, one of the most common questions I hear from patients is whether having had chickenpox in the past means they are also positive for cytomegalovirus (CMV). This is an understandable concern, as both chickenpox and CMV belong to the herpesvirus family. However, it’s important to note that they are caused by different viruses and having one does not necessarily mean you have the other.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into the topic of chickenpox and CMV, exploring their causes, symptoms, transmission, prevention, and the potential link between the two. By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of what it means to have had chickenpox and whether or not it indicates CMV positivity.

What is Chickenpox?

Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a highly contagious viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It is characterized by an itchy, blister-like rash that typically appears on the face, chest, and back before spreading to the rest of the body[1].

Other common symptoms of chickenpox include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache

Chickenpox is most commonly seen in children but can affect people of all ages. The virus spreads through direct contact with the rash or through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Complications of Chickenpox

While most cases of chickenpox resolve without complications, some individuals may experience more severe symptoms or develop secondary infections. Possible complications include:

People with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and newborns are at a higher risk of experiencing complications from chickenpox.

What is CMV?

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus that belongs to the herpesvirus family. It is estimated that more than half of adults in the United States have been infected with CMV by the age of 40[2]. Most people who are infected with CMV show no symptoms, as the virus typically remains dormant in the body.

CMV spreads through close contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, such as saliva, blood, urine, and breast milk. The virus can also be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her unborn child, which can cause serious health problems for the baby.

CMV in Pregnancy

CMV infection during pregnancy is a significant concern, as it can lead to congenital CMV, which may cause birth defects and developmental disabilities in the child. Pregnant women who contract CMV for the first time during pregnancy have a higher risk of passing the virus to their unborn baby.

Symptoms of congenital CMV may include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Vision problems
  • Intellectual disability
  • Seizures
  • Microcephaly (small head size)

Regular prenatal care and screening for CMV can help identify and manage potential risks for both the mother and the baby.

The Relationship Between Chickenpox and CMV

While chickenpox and CMV are caused by different viruses, they share some similarities as members of the herpesvirus family. However, having had chickenpox does not necessarily mean that a person is CMV positive.

CMV Negative but Had Chickenpox

It is entirely possible for an individual to have had chickenpox in the past but test negative for CMV. This is because the two viruses are distinct and have different modes of transmission. Having had chickenpox provides immunity against future VZV infections but does not confer protection against CMV.

CMV Chicken Pox

The term “CMV chicken pox” is a misnomer, as there is no direct link between CMV and the development of chickenpox. CMV does not cause the characteristic rash and symptoms associated with chickenpox, which are exclusively caused by the varicella-zoster virus.

Testing for CMV

If you are concerned about your CMV status, particularly if you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, your healthcare provider can perform a blood test to check for CMV antibodies. A positive result indicates that you have been infected with CMV at some point in your life, while a negative result suggests that you have not been exposed to the virus.

It’s important to note that standard herpes tests, such as those used to diagnose genital or oral herpes, do not detect CMV. Can chickenpox cause a positive herpes test? No, as chickenpox is caused by VZV, not the herpes simplex viruses (HSV-1 and HSV-2) that are detected by herpes tests.

Prevention and Treatment

Chickenpox Prevention and Treatment

The most effective way to prevent chickenpox is through vaccination. The chickenpox vaccine, also known as the varicella vaccine, is typically administered in two doses during childhood. For those who have not been vaccinated and are exposed to chickenpox, receiving the vaccine within 3 to 5 days of exposure can help prevent or reduce the severity of the illness[3].

Treatment for chickenpox primarily focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing complications. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, can help reduce fever and discomfort. Calamine lotion and oatmeal baths may alleviate itching. Antiviral medications, like acyclovir, may be prescribed in severe cases or for individuals at high risk of complications.

CMV Prevention and Treatment

There is currently no vaccine available to prevent CMV infection. However, practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands frequently and avoiding close contact with bodily fluids of infected individuals, can help reduce the risk of transmission.

For people with weakened immune systems and infants born with congenital CMV, antiviral medications like ganciclovir and valganciclovir may be prescribed to help manage the infection and prevent complications[4].

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you get chickenpox twice?

In most cases, having chickenpox once provides lifelong immunity. However, in rare instances, a person may contract chickenpox more than once, particularly if their initial infection was very mild or if they have a weakened immune system.

Is CMV a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

While CMV can be transmitted through sexual contact, it is not considered a classical STI. The virus can also spread through other means, such as close contact with an infected person’s saliva, blood, or urine.

Can you get shingles if you’ve never had chickenpox?

No, shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus in people who have previously had chickenpox. If you have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine, you cannot develop shingles.

Is there a cure for CMV?

There is no cure for CMV, but antiviral medications can help manage the infection and prevent complications in people with weakened immune systems or infants with congenital CMV.

Key Takeaways

  • Chickenpox and CMV are caused by different viruses within the herpesvirus family.
  • Having had chickenpox does not necessarily mean you are CMV positive.
  • Chickenpox is preventable through vaccination, while there is no vaccine for CMV.
  • Practicing good hygiene can help reduce the risk of CMV transmission.
  • If you are concerned about your CMV status, consult your healthcare provider for testing and guidance.

By understanding the differences between chickenpox and CMV, as well as the potential health implications of each virus, you can take proactive steps to protect your health and the well-being of your loved ones. Remember to stay informed, practice preventive measures, and seek medical advice when necessary.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Chickenpox (Varicella). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/index.html
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). About Cytomegalovirus (CMV). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cmv/overview.html
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Chickenpox Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/varicella/public/index.html
  4. Lurain, N. S., & Chou, S. (2010). Antiviral drug resistance of human cytomegalovirus. Clinical microbiology reviews, 23(4), 689-712. https://doi.org/10.1128/CMR.00009-10
  5. Leung, J., Bialek, S. R., & Marin, M. (2015). Trends in Varicella Mortality in the United States: Data From Vital Statistics and the National Surveillance System. Pediatrics, 147(3). https://doi.org/10.1080%2F21645515.2015.1008880
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