Pathology dictionary

Epstein-Barr virus

What is the Epstein-Barr virus?

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a member of a large group of viruses called herpesviruses. Another name for EBV is human herpesvirus 4 (HHV4). EBV is found all over the world and infection is common. EBV is spread between people through body fluids, typically saliva. Most people who become infected with EBV will have only mild symptoms and recover completely.

Some people who become infected with EBV will develop a condition called infectious mononucleosis or “mono”. Symptoms of mononucleosis include fatigue, fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and rash. People with this condition may also develop an enlarged spleen and swollen liver.

Although rare, EBV infection may also lead to the development of certain types of cancer over time. The most common types of cancers caused by EBV are Burkitt lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. It is important to note that very few people who are infected with EBV will develop one of these types of cancer in their lifetime.

Pathologists perform special tests such as immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization to look for EBV in tissue samples. This tissue may be removed in a procedure called a biopsy or after a surgical procedure is performed to remove a larger amount of tissue such as an entire tumour. These tests allow pathologists to see chemicals, such as EBER, made by the virus inside cells.

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