Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Retinitis

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis is a serious disease that causes compromised vision and can ultimately result in a total loss of vision. CMV retinitis is typically associated with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Back in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, almost one-quarter of all individuals diagnosed with late-stage AIDS also developed CMV retinitis. However, thanks to aggressive treatments and a new, potent combination of drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS, CMV retinitis has been reduced by more than 80 percent.

Causes and Symptoms

CMV retinitis is caused by the cytomegalovirus. Almost four-fifths of adults have antibodies for this very common virus, meaning they have been infected by the virus and their immune systems have successfully fought it off. However, the bodies of individuals with compromised immune systems, especially due to HIV/AIDS, are unable to fight off the virus. All those with a weakened or suppressed immune system are at risk for CMV retinitis, including those who are undergoing chemotherapy or who have recently had a bone marrow transplant.

Common symptoms of CMV retinitis include seeing small specks in the eye, or “floaters.” As the disease progresses, affected individuals experience blurry vision, decreased peripheral vision, and light flashes. If the virus is not treated, CMV retinitis can cause a detached retina, leading to blindness in less than six months.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you are stricken with CMV retinitis, the infection will occur in the most external part of your retina. The virus may be present for an extended period, but inactive on this outer layer. Once the virus becomes activated, however, it will quickly trigger cell death and spread to deeper layers within the retina, in the end leading to detachment and total vision loss.

If you have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS or have a weakened immune system and are experiencing vision changes, see an eye care professional immediately. Prompt care and treatment are absolutely essential to control the disease and prevent blindness. The progression of the disease is treated with anti-viral drugs, but these drugs cannot completely cure it. Anti-viral medication may be administered either in pill form or as an implant in the eye.

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