The Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), formally called Human gammaherpesvirus 4, is one of the nine known human herpesvirus types in the herpes family, and is one of the most common viruses in humans.
It is best known as the cause of infectious mononucleosis ("mono" or "glandular fever"). It is also associated with various non-malignant, premalignant, and malignant Epstein–Barr virus-associated lymphoproliferative diseases such as Burkitt lymphoma, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, and Hodgkin's lymphoma; non-lymphoid malignancies such as gastric cancer and nasopharyngeal carcinoma; and conditions associated with human immunodeficiency virus such as hairy leukoplakia and central nervous system lymphomas. The virus is also associated with the childhood disorders of Alice in Wonderland syndrome and acute cerebellar ataxia and, based on some evidence, higher risks of developing certain autoimmune diseases, especially dermatomyositis, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren's syndrome, and multiple sclerosis. About 200,000 cancer cases per year are thought to be attributable to EBV.
Infection with EBV occurs by the oral transfer of saliva and genital secretions.
Most people become infected with EBV and gain adaptive immunity. In the United States, about half of all five-year-old children and about 90% of adults have evidence of previous infection. Infants become susceptible to EBV as soon as maternal antibody protection disappears. Many children become infected with EBV, and these infections usually cause no symptoms or are indistinguishable from the other mild, brief illnesses of childhood. In the United States and other developed countries, many people are not infected with EBV in their childhood years. When infection with EBV occurs during adolescence, it causes infectious mononucleosis 35 to 50% of the time.
EBV infects B cells of the immune system and epithelial cells. Once EBV's initial lytic infection is brought under control, EBV latency persists in the individual's B cells for the rest of their life.