How the Epstein Barr Virus Works

If you're like about 95 percent of adults between 35 and 40 years old, you have the Epstein-Barr virus-and you probably don't even know it, according to the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control. Many people are not aware that the virus is lying dormant within their bodies because the disease can be asymptomatic or it can be confused with other common illnesses. Interested in hearing more? Read on to learn how the Epstein-Barr virus works and what, if anything, you can do about it.

What is the Epstein-Barr virus?

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a ubiquitous virus in the scientific herpesvirus family of viruses, also known as human herpes virus 4 (HHV-4). It is different from the herpes simplex and varicella zoster forms. By age 5, half of us will already have the virus. It is so common among us that almost everyone has it, whether they know it or not. And we all will have it (whether dormant or otherwise) forever. EBV lives in the B-lymphocytes of our bodies rather than in nerve cells like other viruses do.

How the Epstein-Barr virus works

It's pretty difficult to avoid getting the Epstein-Barr virus. Despite plenty of research into the disease, it appears that there is very little anyone can do proactively at this time. People become susceptible to this common virus as soon as the maternal antibodies wear off in early childhood. When the virus expresses itself in young adulthood, it's in the form of infectious mononucleosis, commonly referred to as mono or the kissing disease. It causes flu-like symptoms, such as loss of appetite, broken blood vessels in the eyes, fever, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes.

Epstein-Barr recovery and dormancy

It can take up to two months to recover from the condition, and even then the virus remains in the body for the rest of your life, lying latent within the immune system and in a few throat and blood cells, according to the National Center for Infectious Diseases. The Epstein-Barr virus can also reactivate, often subclinically and asymptomatically, every so often. Carriers of the virus can transmit the virus unbeknownst to anyone. It is transmitted via saliva and is highly contagious. The body's immune system works to overcome the virus and suppress further occurrences of mono.

Rare complications

While most of the time the Epstein-Barr virus does not leave any lasting injuries, it has been reported that an enlarged or ruptured spleen or inflamed liver causing jaundice have followed, although this is usually only a complication in people who have compromised immune systems.

Anemia may also develop in people with the Epstein-Barr virus, particularly if the illness has been long-lasting. Discovery Health reports that the Epstein-Barr virus has been linked with some cancers, such as nasopharyngeal carcinoma and Burkitt's lymphoma, as well as other lymphomas. (Lymphomas are cancers that begin in the immune system.)

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