What is the Epstein-Barr virus?

The Epstein-Barr virus, also called EBV, is an extremely common virus that infects most people at one time or another during their lifetimes. Epstein-Barr virus infection generally causes a minor cold-like or flu-like illness, but, in some cases, there may be no symptoms of infection.

In adolescents and young adults, the Epstein-Barr virus can cause mononucleosis, which is a more serious illness. Epstein-Barr virus infection has also been linked to the development of certain rare cancers including Burkitt's lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Epstein-Barr virus is very contagious and spreads from person to person through intimate contact with the saliva of a person who has the Epstein-Barr virus. As many as 95% of all adults have had an Epstein-Barr virus infection at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Treatment of most viral diseases begins with preventing the spread of the disease with basic hygiene measures. However, controlling the spread of the Epstein-Barr virus is extremely difficult because it is so common and because it is possible to spread the Epstein-Barr virus even when a person does not appear sick. Many healthy people who have had an Epstein-Barr virus infection continue to carry the virus in their saliva, which means they can spread it to others throughout their lifetimes. However, avoiding contact with another person's saliva by not sharing drinking glasses or toothbrushes is still a good general disease prevention measure.

There is currently no specific cure for an Epstein-Barr virus infection. Treatment includes measures to help relieve symptoms and keep the body as strong as possible until the disease runs its course. This includes rest, medications to ease body aches and fever, and drinking plenty of fluids. People who are in good health can generally recover from an Epstein-Barr virus infection at home with supportive care, such as rest, fluids and pain relievers.

Corticosteroids may be prescribed in some cases of mononucleosis. Antibiotics are ineffective against the Epstein-Barr virus, but may be prescribed if a secondary bacterial infection develops, such as bacterial tonsillitis.

Serious or life-threatening complications, such as encephalitis, ruptured spleen, or hepatitis, may develop in some cases of Epstein-Barr virus infection or mononucleosis, which is often caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.  

Seek prompt medical care if you, or your child, have symptoms of mononucleosis, such as extreme fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or a cold- or flu-like illness that is not getting better. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have life-threatening symptoms, such as shortness of breath, seizure, confusion or delirium, or a change in alertness or consciousness.


SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of an Epstein-Barr virus infection?

Symptoms of an Epstein-Barr virus infection vary greatly among individuals. Toddlers and adults may experience no symptoms at all, but are still capable of spreading the infection.

General symptoms of an Epstein-Barr virus infection

Symptoms of an Epstein-Barr virus infection are often mild, vague, and similar to symptoms of a cold or the flu. Symptoms include:
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CAUSES

What causes an Epstein-Barr virus infection?

Epstein-Barr virus is a member of the herpesvirus family of viruses. The Epstein-Barr virus is contagious and spreads from person to person through intimate contact in which saliva is exchanged. This is why mononucleosis, which is often caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, is commonly referred to as “the kissing disease.”

The Epstein-Barr virus can spread from person to person by suc... Read more about epstein-barr viruscauses

TREATMENTS

How is an Epstein-Barr virus infection treated?

There is currently no cure for an Epstein-Barr virus infection. Treatment includes measures aimed at relieving symptoms so that you are comfortable enough to get the rest you need to keep up your strength and recover without developing complications. Treatment of an Epstein-Barr virus infection includes:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 1, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Infections and Contagious Diseases


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