FAQs about Epstein-Barr virus and MS

The Epstein-Barr virus or EBV is most commonly transmitted through bodily fluids, especially saliva, but also can be passed on through sexual contact, blood transfusions, and organ transplants. The virus easily spreads through contact with items contaminated by an infected person, such as food and drink, toothbrushes, or children’s toys.

Data show that multiple sclerosis (MS) patients are at a higher risk of infections (including by bacteria, fungi, or viruses) or serious complications from infection than those in the general population. Of note, some MS therapies are immune-suppressing and can potentially also increase the infection risk in these patients.

Most, if not all, multiple sclerosis (MS) patients show signs of a previous Epstein-Barr infection. In a recent landmark study, it was found that more than 99% of multiple sclerosis patients had antibodies against the virus in their blood, indicating a prior infection, before being diagnosed with MS. In the general population, it is estimated that about 90% of people will be infected at some point in their lives.

There is no cure for Epstein-Barr virus and there is no vaccine to prevent it. Upon infection, the virus is able to live in a dormant state in a person’s body for the rest of the individual’s life. For most people, active infection is asymptomatic, or may be associated with mild symptoms that go away on their own within a few weeks and are never diagnosed as EBV.

The presence of antibodies against certain proteins of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in a person’s blood can be used to determine if someone is infected or has been in the past. Antibodies against the viral capsid antigen protein are often used to assess a current or recent infection, whereas antibodies against the EBV nuclear antigen identify older infections that occurred months to years earlier.

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