It’s one of the most common viruses in the world, and it has that unique name: Epstein-Barr virus (EVB). Even though it’s so common, many people don’t know much about it. We reached out to Janet Conner, a medical technologist and the infection prevention western region director with Banner Health in Northern Colorado, to learn about this virus that’s a member of the herpes virus family.
Q: What causes Epstein-Barr Virus?
A: You can contract EBV by coming into contact with the bodily fluid of someone who is carrying the EBV virus. Most commonly it is passed by saliva. For this reason, EBV’s associated illness, mononucleosis, is nicknamed the “kissing disease.”
Q: How Do I Know if I Have Epstein-Barr Virus?
A: Epstein-Barr virus symptoms are like those of the common cold or flu, and my include:
- Sore or inflamed throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Additional symptoms that distinguish this virus from the flu or a cold are an enlarged spleen or swollen liver. In children with EBV, symptoms may never present, whereas teens and adults may experience symptoms for several weeks or months.
Q: How is Epstein-Barr Virus Diagnosed and Treated?
A: Because many of the Epstein-Barr virus symptoms mirror those of flu or cold, diagnosis can be difficult. Your physician can run a blood test that detects certain antibodies linked to EBV. But detection of these antibodies can mean the EBV is active now in your body or that you had a past EBV infection, also making it a challenge to diagnose.
Bad news? EBV doesn’t have a treatment or cure. But the good news is that there are several ways you can relieve your symptoms:
- Sleep and frequent rest
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to stay hydrated
- Consider using over-the-counter medications for pain and fever relief
Q: Can Epstein-Barr Virus be Prevented?
A: When it comes to EBV, sharing isn’t always caring. The best ways to avoid contracting Epstein-Barr virus are to not share drinks or food, kiss or share personal items with someone who has the virus and to refrain from sexual contact with someone carrying the virus. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth unless you’re sure your hands are clean – the mucous membranes in these areas are gateways for viruses and bacteria. Also remember, to help protect yourself from any illness, wash your hands frequently – hand hygiene is the single most effective method of preventing infection everywhere!
Q: Can Epstein-Barr Virus Cause Other Illnesses?
A: Epstein-Barr virus is most frequently associated with infectious mononucleosis, also called “mono.” Because EBV can affect the nervous system, other less frequent illnesses that can be caused by EBV include:
- Viral meningitis
- Optic neuritis
- Transverse myelitis
- Facial nerve palsies
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Acute cerebellar ataxia
If your symptoms match up with those of Epstein-Barr virus, and you want to be tested for the virus, consult a Banner physician.