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Epstein-Barr virus

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

Symptoms of Epstein-Barr virus infection can include

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

Many people become infected with Epstein-Barr virus in childhood. Epstein-Barr virus 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 Epstein-Barr virus infection, usually teenagers or adults, get better in two to four weeks. However, some people may feel fatigued for several weeks or even months.

After you get an Epstein-Barr virus 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 weakened immune systems are more likely to develop symptoms if Epstein-Barr virus reactivates.

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

Epstein-Barr virus 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.

The first time you get infected with Epstein-Barr virus (primary Epstein-Barr virus 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 Epstein-Barr virus to others no matter how much time has passed since the initial infection.

Diagnosing Epstein-Barr virus infection can be challenging since symptoms are similar to other illnesses. Epstein-Barr virus infection can be confirmed with a blood test that detects antibodies. About nine out of ten of adults have antibodies that show that they have a current or past Epstein-Barr virus infection.

Prevention & treatment
There is no vaccine to protect against Epstein-Barr virus infection. You can help protect yourself by not kissing or sharing drinks, food, or personal items, like toothbrushes, with people who have Epstein-Barr virus infection.

There is no specific treatment for Epstein-Barr virus. 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

This information was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Infectious Diseases. Epstein-Barr Virus and Infectious Mononucleosis. Available at: Last accessed December 7, 2017.

The information in this document is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for personalized professional advice. Although the information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, MedLink Corporation, its representatives, and the providers of the information do not guarantee its accuracy and disclaim responsibility for adverse consequences resulting from its use. For further information, consult a physician and the organization referred to herein.

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