Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) is a herpes virus that does not cause disease or only leads to very mild symptoms. Often these mild symptoms are not generally recognized to be caused by EBV. When EBV does cause disease, there are no specific treatments, meaning that the virus itself cannot be medically targeted. However a number of steps can be taken to alleviate symptoms.
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Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus does not always require treatment. According to Merck, 95 percent of people have been exposed to EBV by the time they are adults, and most cases do not cause symptoms. The Mayo Clinic further reports that people who have been exposed to virus become immune for life.
EBV is a virus of the family herpesviridae; this same family of viruses is responsible for conditions like oral and genital herpes as well as chickenpox and shingles. These forms of herpes virus respond well to treatment with a group of antiviral drugs including acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir.
However, Edward Gershburg and Joseph S. Pagano of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center report that EBV does not respond to treatment with these drugs. Specifically, these drugs have been shown to control EBV in the laboratory, but not in actual cases of people infected with EBV.
People who have been exposed to EBV can sometimes shed the virus in their saliva, even if they themselves have no symptoms. Contracting EBV in this way during young adulthood can lead to infectious mononucleosis, which, according to Merck, causes symptoms like serious fatigue, fever, swollen lymph glands and a sore throat.
The treatment of mononucleosis targets symptoms and includes pain relievers and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs; this treatment plan targets pain and fever, according to Merck. Merck also notes that activities that might damage the spleen, which often becomes swollen during mononucleosis, should be avoided.
An Epstein-Barr infection can lead to a number of other conditions, especially in people with weakened immune systems, as in cases of advanced HIV-disease. Most of these are cancers, including Burkitt's and CNS lymphomas and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. EBV also contributes to hairy leukoplakia, an oral condition found in those living with HIV. The treatment of these conditions will depend on the immune health of sufferers, as some cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can lead to further damage of the immune system.
According to Gershburg and Pagano, new research may lead to better treatments for conditions linked to EBV. This includes finding ways to stimulate the viral lytic cycle, which would destroy infected cells, as well as seeking out new antiviral drugs.