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Epstein Barr Virus
Epstein-Barr virus

What is the Epstein-Barr virus?

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), also known as human herpesvirus 4, is an enveloped virus from the Herpesviridae family. The infection with EBV is considered an “disease of civilization” because more than 90 per cent of people worldwide carry the virus in their bodies. If it becomes active, it attacks the immune system and is a frequent cause of infectious mononucleosis, or glandular fever, also called Pfeiffer’s disease. In addition, some researchers suspect that it promotes cancer and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS). Once the infection has healed, the virus remains in a latent state in the human body. A vaccine against the Epstein-Barr virus does not yet exist. Initial cases of EBV diseases usually occur in childhood and often remains undetected, as people attribute the symptoms to colds.

How is the Epstein-Barr virus transmitted?

The first and only infection usually takes place in childhood and patients generally display no symptoms. Only about 10 to 20 per cent of people fall ill in the second or third phase of life. Normally, however, no medical consequences appear later. The virus is mainly transmitted through saliva contact, by kissing, or using the same glass, cutlery or toothbrush. But EBV can also spread through blood transfusions or sexual contact. There is a risk of infection in people who have been infected with the virus, but who have not yet developed glandular fever, or are in a latent state. During the first infection, Epstein-Barr viruses spread in cells of the mucous membrane of the mouth and nose as well as B-lymphocytes in the pharynx. After an incubation period of four to eight weeks, the virus spreads via the bloodstream. Even after the symptoms have subsided, EBV can still be detected in saliva for several months. The virus then remains in an inactive state in the body but can be reactivated to become contagious again.

What are the symptoms?

In most cases, the Epstein-Barr virus triggers the disease infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever). While this usually goes unnoticed in small children, the first infectious mononucleosis in adolescents and adults manifests itself in non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and liver and an enlarged spleen. In this case, the infection heals after a few weeks. Complicated disease progression, with shortness of breath, rupture of the spleen or blood cell deficiency, rarely occur.

Significance for infections in hospitals and in the outpatient sector

In the event of an EBV infection and the outbreak of glandular fever, standard hygiene measures must be applied in the hospital and in the outpatient area. This includes, among other things, consistent hand hygiene and disinfection of the patient environment, as well as surfaces that have frequent hand and skin contact. Contact between body fluids of the infected person and other patients should be avoided.

Survival time of pathogens on inanimate surfaces

The Epstein-Barr virus survives on surfaces as long as they remain moist.

Disinfectant effectiveness for prevention

The required spectrum of activity against EBV is: limited virucidal

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