Mono and EBV: What is the Epstein-Barr virus?

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a member of the herpes virus family, and is one of the most common infections in humans worldwide. In the United States, an estimated 95% of men and women between the ages of 35-40 have been infected with EBV at some point in their lives.

While children who come into contact with this viral infection rarely produce symptoms, in adolescents and young adults it can result in infectious mononucleosis (also known as mono, or the “kissing disease”).

In very rare cases, long-term infection of EBV has also been linked to the development of certain types of cancer.

What are Symptoms of EBV?

Around 35 to 50 percent of adolescents who come into contact with EBV will develop symptoms of mono. These most commonly include a fever, sore throat and swollen lymph glands. However, children and older adults with EBV will often be asymptomatic (i.e. have no symptoms).

While the symptoms of mononucleosis normally disappear within 1 to 2 months, the EBV virus will remain dormant in the body for the rest of the person’s life, normally in the throat or blood cells.

Long-term Effects of EBV

A person who has already been infected with mononucleosis cannot become infected again; however, EBV may become active again, normally appearing in the saliva of infected (although otherwise healthy) persons. In this way, someone with no visible mono symptoms can pass EBV along to others. It normally takes 4-6 weeks for evidence of the virus to become apparent.

In rare cases, EBV can become dormant in the body’s immune system, which can lead to the development of two very unusual types of cancer: Burkitt's lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Treatment and Prevention of the Epstein-Barr Virus

Because EBV remains dormant in a person’s body for the rest of her life, it is virtually impossible to prevent the spread of the virus. The good news is that once you have contracted mononucleosis, you cannot become infected again.

Treatment for EBV is only necessary if it results in further complications, such as mono. Mono cannot be cured, but treatment generally includes prescribed medications, as well as self care methods such as avoiding physical exertion and getting plenty of fluids.


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