What is the Epstein-Barr Virus?
Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) is one of the most common viruses. It’s a member of the herpes group of viruses including HSV 1 and 2, Varicella zoster virus (shingles, chicken pox), Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Pseudorabies virus.
A common factor of these viruses is their stress on the immune system, and their ability to remain dormant in the body for life even after the initial infection.
Epstein Barr Virus Infection
Infection with Epstein Barr is inevitable in humans. Estimates are that 95% or more of the population carry antibodies to the Epstein-Barr virus. Those infected with EBV during adolescence or young adulthood may develop infectious mononucleosis (mono). Although symptoms of mono usually clear up after a couple of months, EBV will remain dormant in the body for the rest of a person’s life.
Epstein-Barr virus is normally spread through saliva and other bodily fluids. During pregnancy, the virus can be transmitted to the unborn baby. It can be spread unknowingly by daycare workers, teachers, grandmas, and college students.
Epstein Barr is a key player in autoimmune disease and chronic illness. It is a contagious, highly infectious, opportunistic disease allowed by a weak immune system; it can be contracted from an infected carrier, overuse, and abuse drugs and/or alcohol.
Periodic reactivation of Epstein Barr may occur but usually doesn’t cause symptoms or illness in healthy individuals with strong immune function. But, if you’re experiencing a vast amount of stress, or you’re pregnant, or have a weakened immune system, EBV and other viruses such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) can become problematic. CMV is spread by direct contact of body fluids, such as saliva, blood, urine, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. CMV is the most common virus transmitted from a pregnant woman to her unborn child.
Most people have been exposed to Epstein Barr by age 40. Many people don’t realize they have been infected because they never feel sick.
But, in those with compromised immune function, reactivation of a dormant EBV infection tends to create more severe problems such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, MS, thyroid disorders, mitochondrial damage, Lyme, schizophrenia, pleurisy, development of autoimmune diseases, cancer and increased risk of Hodgkin’s disease.
Epstein Barr Virus and Autoimmune Disease
Gut dysbiosis, underlying infections (both viral and bacterial), leaky gut, nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, and toxin overload are major factors in autoimmunity.
People with autoimmune conditions have an elevated microbial load, disrupted microbiome, mitochondrial dysfunction from toxin exposures, and nutritional deficiencies. As the pieces to the autoimmune puzzle are identified, the root causes can be addressed systematically by peeling away the layers of the onion and building a strong foundation through diet, nutrition, toxic exposure elimination, lifestyle, and environmental interventions.
A viral protein found in EBV-infected human cells may activate genes associated with an increased risk for autoimmunity. [Nature Genetics] The Epstein Barr Virus attacks the pancreas's beta cells, leading to type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune conditions.
Studies have shown high viral loads of active EBV in a high percentage of patients with a variety of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjögren’s, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune hepatitis, MS, autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s and Grave’s), inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis), and other chronic autoimmune diseases. [Autoimmune Dis. 2012]
A longitudinal study determined that the strongest known risk factor for multiple sclerosis is infection with EBV. Compared with healthy controls, the hazard of developing MS is approximately 15 times higher among individuals infected with EBV in childhood and about 30 times higher among those infected with EBV in adolescence or later in life.
Recognizing Epstein-Barr Virus Symptoms
While many individuals who contract EBV may not experience any noticeable symptoms, those who do can suffer from a range of health issues. It is essential to be aware of the common Epstein-Barr Virus symptoms to identify and address the infection promptly.
Typical EBV Symptoms
Epstein-Barr Virus symptoms can vary significantly from person to person. However, some of the most common symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands
- Skin rash
- Swollen liver and spleen
It is important to note that EBV symptoms can be more severe in teenagers and adults compared to children. Symptoms usually manifest around four to six weeks after infection and can last anywhere from two to four weeks. In some cases, fatigue may linger for weeks or even months after the initial recovery.
Chronic Active Epstein-Barr Virus (CAEBV)
In rare instances, some individuals may develop chronic active Epstein-Barr Virus infection. This progressive disease begins as a primary EBV infection and results in the overproduction of lymphocytes for more than six months. CAEBV is most likely to affect those with weakened immune systems and can lead to ongoing symptoms, such as:
- Persistent fatigue
- Swollen glands
- Liver and spleen enlargement
Although fatigue is a common symptom of CAEBV, no definitive link has been established between EBV and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Understanding Epstein-Barr Virus Causes and Risk Factors
While the primary mode of transmission for EBV is through saliva, it is essential to understand the various ways the virus can spread to better protect oneself from infection.
How EBV Spreads
The Epstein-Barr Virus can be transmitted between individuals through the following means:
- Kissing someone infected with EBV
- Sharing drinks or utensils with an infected person
- Using a toothbrush of an infected individual
- Contact with infected blood or semen during sexual activity
- Blood transfusions
- Organ transplants
Certain factors can increase an individual's risk of contracting EBV and developing mono. These risk factors include:
- Having a weakened or suppressed immune system due to existing health conditions, autoimmune disease, HIV, or taking certain medications
- Being female, as women tend to experience mono more often
- Living in close quarters with many other people, such as college/university dorms or military barracks
- Having a family history of EBV infection
- Being sexually active, particularly with multiple partners
- Living in a tropical country, where EBV appears to spread more easily
Natural Treatment Options for Epstein-Barr Virus
Several natural treatment options can help boost the immune system and alleviate the symptoms of EBV.
These remedies can be used in conjunction with conventional treatment methods to provide a more holistic approach to recovery.
1. Protect Against Infection
Preventing infection is crucial in protecting oneself from Epstein-Barr Virus, as there is no cure once the virus is contracted. To reduce the risk of infection:
- Avoid kissing or engaging in sexual activity with infected individuals for at least four weeks
- Do not share items that may come into contact with infected saliva, such as utensils, toothbrushes, or drinking glasses
- Practice safe sex and limit the number of sexual partners
- Maintain proper hygiene, such as washing hands thoroughly after using public restrooms and showering after exercising or engaging in contact sports
2. Support a Healthy Immune System
A strong immune system is key in fighting off EBV and preventing the development of chronic active Epstein-Barr Virus infection. To support immune health:
- Consume a nutrient-dense diet, low in sugar and processed foods, and rich in clean protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants from fruits and vegetables
- Get adequate sleep and manage stress levels through activities such as light exercise, yoga, meditation, and spending time in nature
- Consider incorporating antiviral herbs and supplements, such as vitamin C, echinacea, elderberry, calendula, garlic, and astragalus root
3. Get Plenty of Sleep and Rest
Rest is crucial in the recovery process from EBV, as the body needs time to heal and restore its energy reserves. Ensure a proper sleep environment by keeping the bedroom dark, cool, and well-ventilated. Additionally, avoid vigorous physical activity for about a month after recovering from EBV to prevent complications related to an enlarged spleen.
4. Manage Fever and Stay Hydrated
Fever and dehydration can exacerbate the symptoms of EBV. To manage fever and maintain proper hydration, consider:
- Using natural painkillers, such as ginger or turmeric, to alleviate fever and muscle aches
- Drinking water, herbal tea, and coconut water throughout the day
- Consuming water-rich fruits, vegetables, bone broth, and smoothies
5. Address Sore Throat and Skin Rash
Sore throat and skin rash are common symptoms of EBV that can cause significant discomfort. To alleviate these symptoms:
- Gargle with warm salt water
- Consume honey with tea or warm water mixed with lemon juice
- Use topical remedies, such as aloe vera or essential oils like lavender, to soothe skin rashes
Epstein-Barr Virus - Final Thoughts
While most individuals with EBV will recover within four to six weeks, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional if symptoms persist or worsen. Seek immediate medical attention if experiencing sudden, sharp pain on the left side of the torso, as this may indicate an enlarged spleen.
In conclusion, Epstein-Barr Virus is a prevalent and potentially debilitating infection. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and natural treatment options available, individuals can better protect themselves and manage the effects of this widespread virus. A combination of conventional and holistic approaches can provide the best results in overcoming the challenges posed by EBV.