What is Chronic Epstein-Barr?

Laura M. Sands

Chronic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is part of the herpes family of viruses and also causes infectious mononucleosis. It is a common virus, which usually infects individuals during childhood, but remains dormant in the body for the rest of a person’s life. Although it usually does not present recurrent symptoms, it is known as chronic Epstein-Barr because it is long lasting. It is also referred as chronic EBV when measurable symptoms last for six months or longer.

Symptoms of chronic Epstein-Barr include extreme fatigue.
Symptoms of chronic Epstein-Barr include extreme fatigue.

Chronic Epstein-Barr virus is transmitted through saliva, which is why the infectious mononucleosis it causes is commonly referred to as the kissing disease. It has been estimated that as many as 90 percent of the entire world population has been infected with Epstein-Barr virus. Most people who contract the virus only experience symptoms during the initial infection and, though it remains latent in the body for life, most do not experience symptoms ever again. Some people, however, do experience periodic mild symptoms of EBV after the initial infection. Still, some people are asymptomatic and never experience symptoms at all.

Swollen lymph nodes and achy muscles may be signs of chronic Epstein-Barr.
Swollen lymph nodes and achy muscles may be signs of chronic Epstein-Barr.

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A few of the symptoms of chronic Epstein-Barr include swollen lymph nodes in the neck, groin or armpit areas, extreme fatigue, sore throat, swollen eyes, achy muscles, chills and fever. When these symptoms are present, a person is diagnosed with infectious mononucleosis, which is highly contagious. Some people also develop EBV complications, such as a skin rash, and may even experience an infection in the liver or a swollen spleen. Infectious mononucleosis symptoms usually last between one and two months, but can last as many as six months before returning to dormancy as chronic Epstein-Barr virus.

Viruses such as EBV do not respond to antibiotics, so non-specific treatment is limited to drinking fluids and bed rest during a symptomatic phase. If pain or fever is present, common medications sold over the counter may be used to relieve these symptoms, but there is not much else that can be done for a person suffering from chronic Epstein-Barr. If a throat infection or liver infection develops, however, doctors will target these with antibiotics.

Infectious mononucleosis from chronic Epstein-Barr virus occurs more frequently in developed countries than it does in underdeveloped ones. Researchers believe this is because children in crowded, underdeveloped countries come in contact with EBV at an earlier age and, therefore, develop a resistance to the symptoms of infectious mononucleosis that teenagers and young adults are often afflicted with later in life. Chronic Epstein-Barr is not usually life threatening, although a swollen spleen that ruptures or a liver infection may result in death.

A persistent sore throat can be a symptom of chronic Epstein-Barr.
A persistent sore throat can be a symptom of chronic Epstein-Barr.

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