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:

  • Body aches

  • Cough

  • Fatigue

  • Headache

  • Low-grade fever

  • Malaise

  • Runny or stuffy nose or nasal congestion

  • Sneezing

  • Sore throat

  • Swollen tonsils

Symptoms of mononucleosis caused by the Epstein-Barr virus

In adolescents and young adults who develop mononucleosis, which is often caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, symptoms generally begin about four to six weeks after exposure to the virus. Early symptoms are similar to symptoms of a cold or the flu. As mononucleosis progresses, symptoms become more severe and can include:

  • Enlarged spleen

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Painful swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck, armpits or groin

  • Rash

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In rare cases, an Epstein-Barr virus infection or mononucleosis can result in serious or life-threatening complications, such as meningitis, hepatitis or ruptured spleen. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of the following symptoms:

  • Change in alertness or level of consciousness or passing out

  • Dizziness

  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • Left upper abdominal pain (possible rupture of spleen)

  • Lethargy or unresponsiveness

  • Rash of small reddish purple spots

  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, or choking

  • Seizure

  • Stiff neck

  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)


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.

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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.”

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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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