Epstein Barr Virus | Mononucleosis

Prevention of illness can sometimes be tricky. Certain viruses have no vaccines and can spread from person-to-person easily.

EBV is a virus that is often seen in children, adolescents, and young adults. In young adults and adolescents EBV infection may cause an extended flu like illness commonly known as infectious mononucleosis (mono).  MaineHealth wants you to know how to stay protected and when to seek medical help.

What is Epstein-Barr virus?

Epstein-Barr is a virus that comes from the herpes family. It often is the cause for mono. The virus attacks different parts of your body and can leave you feeling ill for weeks.

Like chicken-pox, EBV can stay in your body for years.  Typically it causes no problems and does not pose a risk of infection to others.  However, in certain situations or in patients with weak immune systems reactivation of Epstein-Barr can occur.

Is Epstein-Barr contagious?

EBV and mono are often seen in children, adolescents, and young adults. Many times children go undiagnosed, because the symptoms are similar to many other childhood illnesses. Adults can develop immunity and are less likely to get mono.

Epstein-Barr and mono are transmitted through bodily contact, especially saliva. Coming into contact with infected blood and semen can also spread the virus.

The virus can be caught from:

  • Kissing

  • Sharing food or drinks

  • Sharing cups, utensils, or toothbrushes

  • Coming into contact with children’s toys that have been drooled on

Epstein-Barr symptoms

In children first time EBV infection is typically mild and may go unrecognized.  In adolescents and young adults, however, first time EBV infection frequently causes the viral syndrome known as mono.  In this case symptoms do not usually appear until four to six weeks after infection and are typically more severe than EBV infection in young children. Depending on the severity of infection, symptoms can last from two weeks to six months.  Typical symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Inflamed throat

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Enlarged spleen

  • Enlarged liver

  • Rash

The virus can be spread weeks before symptoms appear. Contact your provider or go to your local walk-in care if you have symptoms of EBV or mono.

EBV and mononucleosis screening

Mono is typically diagnosed by evaluating symptoms. Tests can be done to determine the cause of infection in atypical mono cases.

Diagnosing EBV can be difficult, because the symptoms are similar to other illnesses. Simple blood tests can be done to determine EBV and mono presence.

An EBV antibody test can determine if the virus is in the blood. The monospot tests recognizes mononucleosis antibodies, but it may be unreliable early on in the course of illness.

Other blood tests may show:

  • An increase in white blood cells

  • Abnormal white blood cells

  • Decreased platelets

  • Abnormal liver function

Treating EBV and mono

  • Self-care and symptom treatment is typically the treatment process for EBV and mono. Medication may be prescribed to treat specific symptoms, such as corticosteroids to reduce swilling of the throat and tonsils.

  • Make sure to drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated. Getting enough rest is critical for proper recovery. Over the counter pain medication can help with symptoms. Aspirin should not be taken to combat EBV or mono due to serious risk of Reye syndrome.

  • When the spleen is enlarged and inflamed due to mono there is a risk of injury if there is any trauma.  Be sure to ask your doctor about restrictions on activities such as contact sports.

  • Other illnesses like hepatitis may be develop in certain patients. Visit your doctor or local walk-in care if you show symptoms and believe you could have EBV or mono.