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What is Epstein Barr virus?
Epstein-Barr virus, frequently referred to simply as EBV, is a member of the herpes virus family and one of the most common human viruses. In the U.S., as many as 95% of adults between 35 to 40 years of age have been infected.
Most people worldwide will contract EBV sometime during their lives. Infants become susceptible to EBV as soon as maternal antibody protection (present at birth) disappears.
Children who become effected with EBV usually have no symptoms or are indistinguishable from other mild illnesses of childhood. In the United States and in other developed countries, many people are not infected with EBV in their childhood years. When infection with EBV occurs during adolescence or young adulthood, it causes infectious mononucleosis 35% to 50% of the time.
What is infectious mononucleosis?
Infectious mononucleosis, also known as Glandular fever, Kissing disease, Mono and Mononucleosis is an infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. The virus spreads through saliva, which is why it's sometimes called "kissing disease." Mono occurs most often in 15 to 17-year-olds. However, you can get it at any age.
Symptoms of Mononucleosis Include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
- Sometimes you may also have a swollen spleen.
- Note: Serious problems are rare.
Although the symptoms of infectious mononucleosis usually resolve in 1 or 2 months, EBV remains dormant or latent in a few cells in the throat and blood for the rest of the person's life. Periodically, the virus can reactivate and is commonly found in the saliva of infected persons. This reactivation usually occurs without symptoms of illness. EBV also establishes a lifelong dormant infection in some cells of the body's immune system. A late event in a very few carriers of this virus is the emergence of Burkitt's lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma, two rare cancers that are not normally found in the United States. EBV appears to play an important role in these malignancies, but is probably not the sole cause of disease.
Most individuals exposed to people with infectious mononucleosis have previously been infected with EBV and are not at risk for infectious mononucleosis. In addition, transmission of EBV requires intimate contact with the saliva (found in the mouth) of an infected person. Transmission of this virus through the air or blood does not normally occur. The incubation period, or the time from infection to appearance of symptoms, ranges from 4 to 6 weeks. Persons with infectious mononucleosis may be able to spread the infection to others for a period of weeks. However, no special precautions or isolation procedures are recommended, since the virus is also found frequently in the saliva of healthy people.
The clinical diagnosis of infectious mononucleosis is suggested on the basis of the symptoms of fever, sore throat, swollen lymph glands, and the age of the patient. Usually, laboratory tests are needed for confirmation. There is no specific treatment for infectious mononucleosis, other than treating the symptoms. No antiviral drugs or vaccines are available.
It is important to note that symptoms related to infectious mononucleosis caused by EBV infection seldom last for more than 4 months. When such an illness lasts more than 6 months, it is frequently called chronic EBV infection. However, valid laboratory evidence for continued active EBV infection is seldom found in these patients. The illness should be investigated further to determine if it meets the criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS. This process includes ruling out other causes of chronic illness or fatigue.