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CMV Retinitis

Cytomegalovirus retinitis (CMV retinitis) is an inflammation of the retina. It is caused by the cytomegalovirus, a strain of herpes, invading the light-sensitive receptors in the retina. If the virus is left uninhibited, it can eventually lead to vision loss.

CMV currently infects 40% of the population, but is kept under control by the immune system. An additional 40% of the population already has the antibodies for the virus present in their system, meaning at some point they were infected with the disease but fought it off. Half of all reported CMV cases in the US are African-American patients.

CMV is very prevalent among immunocompromised patients. Approximately a fourth of HIV positive patients suffered from CMV before the widespread use of antiretroviral medication. Unfortunately it is still prevalent among HIV patients and they may experience quick vision loss without any symptoms. Steroids used to treat other effects of HIV have shown to increase chances of contracting CMV.

The earliest signs of CMV are an increase in eye floaters, specks, or dancing lights. This eventually leads to blurry vision and decreased peripheral vision. Acute vision loss and bright flashes of light are also common during this process. While initially painless, sharp pain may begin to occur after a few weeks. Visible redness and swelling of the eyelids may also occur. The patient may also be extremely sensitive to bright light. Symptoms start in one eye but frequently and quickly spread to both.  The process of blurred vision to complete vision loss could take as little as six months. Blindness occurs because the CMV slowly kills retinal cells. CMV often causes the retina to detach from the rest of the eye causing blindness.

There is no cure for CMV, but anti-viral drugs are used to slow the disease’s progression. The most effective drugs to treat CMV directly are applied intravenously through an implant in the eye. Other drugs are given through injection or orally. Treating the HIV itself is the best way to prevent cell death.

CMV can be passed down during gestation. It is known to cause deafness, mental issues, and CMV retinitis.