Background: Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is the most common congenital viral infection in the United States, affecting 0.5% to 2% of live births. Approximately 90% of infected infants are asymptomatic at birth. We undertook this study to determine the incidence and etiology of visual impairment and other ophthalmologic abnormalities in children with congenital CMV infection.
Methods: We prospectively evaluated 42 symptomatic and 83 asymptomatic children with congenital CMV infection, along with 21 control patients. One or more comprehensive ophthalmologic examinations were performed on each patient. The frequency and etiology of visual impairment and other ophthalmologic problems were tabulated for each patient.
Results: Nine of 42 (22%) patients in the symptomatic group had moderate to severe visual impairment in 16 eyes. Visual impairment was primarily due to optic atrophy in 6 of 16 (37%) eyes, macular scars in 2 of 16 (13%) eyes, and cortical visual impairment in 8 of 16 (50%) eyes. In comparison, none of 83 asymptomatic patients had severe visual impairment (P <.001). One asymptomatic patient had mild unilateral visual impairment caused by a macular scar. Strabismus developed in 12 of 42 (29%) symptomatic patients compared with 1 of 83 (1.2%) asymptomatic patients (P <.001).
Conclusions: Visual impairment and strabismus are common in patients with symptomatic congenital CMV infection and rare in patients with asymptomatic congenital CMV infection. Visual impairment may be caused by cortical, optic nerve, and/or retinal abnormalities. Infants with symptomatic congenital CMV infection should undergo careful ophthalmologic screening and follow-up examinations.