Perhaps you haven’t heard the name “Epstein-Barr”, but you have probably heard of “Mononucleosis,” or more commonly “Mono.” Epstein-Barr is a virus that is known to cause infectious Mono and raised levels of the virus can also lead to more serious illnesses such as Lymphoma. However, for most people the Epstein-Barr virus will never be more than a bout with Mono and fast recovery. In fact, most people will at some point be exposed to or infected with the Epstein-Barr virus at some point in their lives. (Epstein-Barr Virus, 2001) According to U.S.A today, nearly 95% of adults between the ages of 35 and 40 have at some point been infected with the virus. (2001).
With such statistics as this you may wonder why then is Epstein-Barr so important? As mentioned earlier, high levels of the Epstein-Barr virus can lead to serious illness and has been linked to diseases such as Birkett’s Lymphoma, Multiple Sclerosis, and Nasopharyngeal Cancer, just to name a few. (Epstein-Barr Virus, 2007) As such, it becomes a great del more important to keep the Epstein-Barr virus in check, and keep well informed about your health before and after an infection. Luckily enough, the test for Epstein-Barr levels is fairly easy, a simple blood test is all that is required. For those who have been infected with Mono at a previous time, a small amount of the antibody will be present, for those who have never been infected with the virus, a complete absence of the virus should be detected. A normal level of Epstein-Barr is generally between 1-10 (Kaiser-Permanente Consult, Dec., 2006) An elevated level would indicate an infection.
Symptoms of a current and acute infection include: sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, a persistent fever, fatigue, and a general feeling of sickness and discomfort. Very serious cases may also include eye pain, inflammation of spleen and/or liver (both of which can cause further complications if not cared for properly.) Care can range from reduced stress and activity levels to hospitalization depending on the seriousness of the inflammation. (Kaiser-Permanente Consult, Dec., 2006)
In many cases, the presence of Epstein-Barr signals a bout of Mono, which by itself requires no specific medical action. Doctors generally recommend rest and relaxation. The virus will go away and the patient will recover on their own. “The incubation period for the disease is usually seven to 14 days in children and adolescents. The incubation period in adults is longer; at times it may be 30 to 50 days.” (Epstein-Barr Virus, 2001) Over time the symptoms wear away and the patient feels a great deal better, however, as stated earlier, a post infection blood test should be run to make sure blood levels have returned to normal. Medications can also be prescribed to reduce organ swelling, however, most doctors avoid prescribing any sort of pain-killer or extra medication, for those with a swollen liver as it can be dangerous for a sensitive liver.
The danger with the virus, and one that isn’t as readily detected, is that the virus can hang around and the symptoms will pop back up occasionally. It is this sort of thing that can cause serious problems. Those previously diagnosed with Epstein-Barr problems or Mono and are experiencing the symptoms above should ask their health provider for an Epstein-Barr test as without previous medical history knowledge or some mention, some providers may seek other alternative reasons for the illness. Some may run the test first; especially if one’s medical history is consulted. However, since that isn’t always the case, it’s a good idea to mention it when speaking with your doctor. In this way your doctor can also trace your infection history and possibly prevent further complications.
As with any illness you’ll have a lot of questions, feel free to ask your doctor about the period in which you are contagious, how the virus is spread (Mono is spread through saliva, but the Epstein-Barr virus can be more complicated or not infectious at all), when you can return to work, and the like. Treatment, both personal and professional, are paramount when caring for an Epstein-Barr infection, and tracing any post infections with it is important in further disease prevention. Further information can also be found on the websites mentioned, or through a web search.
N/A (2001). USA Today. Retrieved January 1, 2007, from Epstein-Barr Virus Web site: http://www.healthscout.com/ency/68/44/main.html
(2007). Wikipedia. Retrieved January 1, 2007, from Epstein-Barr Virus Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epstein-Barr