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About Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), also known as human herpesvirus 4, is a member of the herpes virus family. It is one of the most common human viruses. EBV is found all over the world. Most people get infected with EBV at some point in their lives. EBV spreads most commonly through bodily fluids, primarily saliva. EBV can cause infectious mononucleosis, also called mono, and other illnesses.

Symptoms

Symptoms of EBV infection can include

Sick child in bed
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • inflamed throat
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • enlarged spleen
  • swollen liver
  • rash

Many people become infected with EBV in childhood. EBV infections in children usually do not cause symptoms, or the symptoms are not distinguishable from other mild, brief childhood illnesses. People who get symptoms from EBV infection, usually teenagers or adults, get better in 2 to 4 weeks. However, some people may feel fatigued for several weeks or even months.

After you get an EBV infection, the virus becomes latent (inactive) in your body. In some cases, the virus may reactivate. This does not always cause symptoms, but people with compromised immune systems are more likely to develop symptoms if EBV reactivates.

EBV Spreads Easily

EBV is spread by saliva through

  • kissing
  • sharing drinks and food
  • using the same cups, eating utensils, or toothbrushes
  • having contact with toys that children have drooled on

Transmission

EBV spreads most commonly through bodily fluids, especially saliva. However, EBV can also spread through blood and semen during sexual contact, blood transfusions, and organ transplantations.

EBV can be spread by using objects, such as a toothbrush or drinking glass, that an infected person recently used. The virus probably survives on an object at least as long as the object remains moist. There is no evidence that disinfecting the objects will prevent EBV from spreading.

The first time you get infected with EBV (primary EBV infection) you can spread the virus for weeks and even before you have symptoms. Once the virus is in your body, it stays there in a latent (inactive) state. If the virus reactivates, you can potentially spread EBV to others no matter how much time has passed since the initial infection.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing EBV infection can be challenging since symptoms are similar to other illnesses. EBV infection can be confirmed with a blood test that detects antibodies. About 90% of adults have antibodies that show that they have a current or past EBV infection.

For more information, see Laboratory Testing.

Prevention & Treatment

There is no vaccine to protect against EBV infection. You can help protect yourself by not kissing or sharing drinks, food, or personal items, like toothbrushes, with people who have EBV infection.

There is no specific treatment for EBV. However, some things can be done to help relieve symptoms, including

  • drinking fluids to stay hydrated
  • getting plenty of rest
  • taking over-the-counter medications for pain and fever
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