The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) can cause many different infections in humans, including mononucleosis (also called mono or the kissing disease). Many EBV infections produce mild symptoms that are similar to the common cold. However, individuals who develop mono may experience more serious symptoms, such as extreme fatigue, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes, fever, headache, swollen tonsils, loss of appetite, soft and swollen spleen, and night sweats. EBV infections in adolescents and young adults typically cause mono.
EBV, a member of the herpes virus family, is among the most common human viruses. Even though it is less contagious than the common cold, about 95% of Americans who are between the ages of 35-40 and 50% of children who are five years old have been infected with the virus at some point in their lives. Once infected, the body builds up antibodies to the virus. It is very rare for an individual to become re-infected with the virus.
Once an individual becomes infected with EBV, the virus remains dormant (inactive) inside the person's immune system cells. The virus may be present in the saliva for several months after symptoms go away. Individuals are typically contagious for several weeks after the infection develops. However, some individuals may carry and spread the virus intermittently throughout their lives.
In rare cases, EBV has been linked to the development of several uncommon types of cancer, including Burkitt's lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Researchers believe that the viral genes change the way the person's infected immune cells grow, causing them to become cancerous. However, EBV is not considered the sole cause of these cancers.
In the past, researchers thought that EBV may cause chronic fatigue syndrome. Recent evidence suggests that this condition does not occur in response to EBV infections. Instead, patients may have dysfunctional immune systems.
There is currently no effective treatment for EBV. Instead, treatment focuses on reducing symptoms until the infection goes away on its own. Medications, such as pain relievers and steroids, may help reduce symptoms. Patients should also drink plenty of fluids and rest until the infection is gone.
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