About the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a member of the herpes virus family, is the most common cause of infectious mononucleosis (IM), generally known as mono. Sometimes referred to as the kissing disease, mononucleosis spreads easily through saliva and occurs primarily in adolescents and young adults. Most people will be infected with EBV in their lifetime.
Symptoms and Illnesses Linked to EBV
For most people, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infections cause no symptoms. However, several illnesses caused by EBV infection — including mononucleosis — can cause symptoms. The symptoms of mono can include fever, fatigue, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes, which can cause hospitalization and even the rupture of the spleen. Another illness triggered by EBV is oral hairy leukoplakia, which can cause white patches to appear on the tongue, sometimes appearing hairy. Oral leukoplakia is usually harmless, but in rare cases may be an early signal of cancer.
EBV may also be linked to a few cancers, including Hodgkin’s, non-Hodgkin’s, and Burkitt’s lymphoma, and increases the risk of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. EBV’s role in the development of these cancers is still unclear. It is estimated that about 200,000 new cancer diagnoses are a result of EBV infection each year.
EBV Transmission: How it Spreads
EBV most commonly spreads through bodily fluids, especially saliva. Sharing objects like toothbrushes and drinking glasses with an infected person can spread the virus. EBV can also spread through blood and semen during sexual contact, blood transfusions, and organ transplantations.
When first infected with EBV, you can spread the virus for weeks, even before you experience symptoms. The virus lays dormant in the body for some time, potentially forever. If the virus reactivates, you can potentially spread EBV to others no matter how much time has passed since you were first infected.
A 3D rendering of Epstein-Barr virus.
Clinical Trials and EBV Vaccine Progress
There are currently no approved EBV vaccines. However, some promising vaccine candidates are in clinical trials. A safe and effective vaccine could reduce cancer prevalence and mono hospitalizations by preventing a significant number of infections.
The remarkable rise of mRNA vaccines developed for COVID-19 may also create some headway in the development of mRNA EBV vaccines. The clinical trials and widespread use of the mRNA platform means researchers now have extensive evidence of how effective mRNA vaccines could be in the fight against other diseases.
Meridian is currently conducting a clinical trial for an mRNA Epstein-Barr virus vaccine. The hope is that these early trials will demonstrate both safety and efficacy of this investigational vaccine.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tragic and strenuous journey for humankind. But there is hope that what we’ve learned may accelerate our journey toward a new class of vaccine (and therapeutic) technology that could save millions of lives in the future.
Recently, vaccines dealt us an astonishing tool in the fight against a viral pandemic. All the while, researchers have still been studying ways to fight viruses — like EBV and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — that continue to circulate among us.
EBV Clinical Trials at Meridian
Meridian conducts EBV vaccine studies across the Midwest, South and East Coast. If you’re interested in learning more about or participating in vaccine trial with Meridian, visit our find a study page or call us to speak with a recruitment specialist.