We reviewed studies that reported results of systematic cytomegalovirus (CMV) screening on fetuses and/or live-born infants. The overall birth prevalence of congenital CMV infection was 0.64%, but varied considerably among different study populations. About 11% of live-born infants with congenital CMV infection were symptomatic, but the inter-study differences in definitions of symptomatic cases limit the interpretation of these data. Non-white race, low socioeconomic status (SES), premature birth, and neonatal intensive care unit admittance were risk factors for congenital CMV infection. Birth prevalence increased with maternal CMV seroprevalence. Maternal seroprevalence accounted for 29% of the variance in birth prevalence between study populations. Maternal seroprevalence and birth prevalence were both higher in study populations that were ascertained at birth rather than in the prenatal period. Thus, timing of ascertainment should be considered when interpreting birth prevalence estimates. Birth prevalence was inversely correlated with mean maternal age, but this relationship was not significant when controlling for maternal seroprevalence. The rate of transmission to infants born to mothers who had a primary infection or a recurrent infection during pregnancy was 32% and 1.4%, respectively. Possible maternal primary infections (i.e. seropositive mother with CMV IgM) resulted in congenital infections about 20% of the time, but are likely to represent a mixture of primary and recurrent infections. In summary, CMV is a common congenital infection worldwide that can lead to permanent disabilities. There is an urgent need for interventions that can reduce the substantial burden of this often overlooked disease. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.