The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), also called human herpesvirus 4, which is best known for causing mononucleosis or “mono,” is one of the most common human viruses in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infecting most people at some point in their lives. Now, results of a new study suggest EBV increases the risk for seven diseases in some people who contract the virus.
According to researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center who conducted the study, the Epstein-Barr virus produces a protein called EBNA2 that binds to several locations in human DNA that are associated with these chronic conditions, which include systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease (celiac), and type 1 diabetes.
Results of this study, published in Nature Genetics, are significant: In developed countries, more than 90 percent of people are infected with EBV by age 20; in developing nations, 90 percent of people are infected by age 2; and infection with the virus is lifelong. EBV has also been linked to certain cancers of the lymphatic system and the seven conditions associated with EBV affect a total of nearly 8 million people in the United States alone.