Epstein-Barr not a harmless virus

The Epstein-Barr virus is a common herpes virus worldwide. About 80-90% of the world’s population is a carrier of the Epstein-Barr virus. The abbreviation EBV is therefore also translated as Everybody’s Virus. Mononucleosis is a common example of a disease caused by the virus. But the Epstein-Barr virus is also associated with the development of a number of cancers and Multiple Sclerosis.

Pfeiffer’s disease

The Epstein-Barr virus is best known as the cause of mononucleosis. Infection occurs through saliva. Mononucleosis mainly occurs in children and young adults. Characteristics of glandular fever are fatigue, feeling of general malaise, fever, sore throat, swelling of lymph nodes and enlargement of the liver and/or spleen. The immune system tries to rid the body of the virus and therefore produces antibodies. However, the virus will always remain latent in the body after an initial infection. There is no treatment for the disease other than taking rest. In everyone, the disease will heal over time. Not everyone who is infected with the Epstein-Barr virus will develop mononucleosis. The development of the disease depends, among other things, on the age at which the infection occurs. Young children generally do not get very ill, while older children and young adults can become quite ill.

Cancer and Multiple Sclerosis

The Epstein-Barr virus is also associated with the development of other often serious acute or chronic diseases. Scientists officially recognize that the Epstein-Barr virus can cause a number of cancers and Multiple Sclerosis. In Western Europe, the Epstein-Barr virus is present in the tumor cells in 35% of cases of Hodgkin’s disease. In South America, almost all cases of Hodgkin’s disease are associated with the Epstein-Barr virus. In addition, 10% of stomach cancers worldwide are related to the Epstein-Barr virus. Scandinavian research has shown that people who show symptoms of glandular fever when first infected with the Epstein-Barr virus are four times more likely to develop Hodgkin’s disease than people without symptoms. The risk of Multiple Sclerosis is two and a half times greater.


Researchers are trying to map the behavior of the Epstein-Barr virus. The research focuses in particular on the role of the Epstein-Barr virus in the development of cancer or Multiple Sclerosis and on the conditions under which the virus behaves abnormally active. The virus knows how to hide well in our immune system. Most people are not bothered by it at all, but if resistance is seriously reduced, the virus can become active again. In some cases, this can ultimately lead to a form of cancer or Multiple Sclerosis. It is suspected that Epstein-Barr virus secretes proteins that make the T cells of our immune system passive. Researchers are therefore looking for a therapy to ensure that the T cells actively respond to these proteins.

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