Other than being the cause for mononucleosis, I knew absolutely nothing about the Epstein – Barr virus prior to reading Anthony William’s book “Thyroid Healing”. Because he attributes the virus to being the underlying cause of so many health issues, I knew I needed to learn more. What I found out was absolutely terrifying, and I am shocked that news of this virus isn’t being shouted from the rooftops.
And while there seems to be an upswing in the popular media discussing EBV, I wonder if it’s enough. Goop wrote an article titled “Is Epstein-Barr Virus at the Root of Chronic Illness?” Dr. Oz wrote one called “The Secret Life of Epstein-Barr Virus” and Everyday Health published an article called “Epstein – Barr virus and MS: What’s the Connection?” Clearly a dialogue is happening.
So how is it that so many people are so unaware of this danger? And just what is the Epstein – Barr virus and why is it so scary?
WHAT IS THE EPSTEIN-BARR VIRUS?
The Epstein – Barr virus (EBV) is classified in the family Herpesviridae, subfamily Gamaherpesvirinae, genus Lymphocryptovirus and species Human herpesvirus 4.
The virus is a human herpesvirus. It’s known as herpesvirus4. Out of the more than one hundred known herpes viruses, there are eight known that routinely infect only humans. Each and every one of them is a horror to behold.
Here’s a quick glance at the EBV’s human-infecting family tree:
HERPES SIMPLEX VIRUS TYPES 1 AND 2 – these two cause genital herpes, and the herpes virus that causes sores in and around your mouth.
VARICELLA-ZOSTER VIRUS – this virus causes chickenpox and shingles.
CYTOMEGALOVIRUS – CMV occasionally can cause mononucleosis or hepatitis. People with weakened immune systems who get CMV can have more serious symptoms affecting the eyes, lungs, liver, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Babies born with CMV can have brain, liver, spleen, lung, and growth problems. Hearing loss is the most common health problem in babies born with congenital CMV infection.
HUMAN HERPESVIRUS 6 (VARIANTS A AND B) – This virus can cause fever, diarrhea, and sometime a rash known as roseola. The initial HHV-6B infection can cause febrile seizures, encephalitis or intractable seizures.
HUMAN HERPESVIRUS 7 – this virus is a causative agent in a variety of macular-papular rashes in children. In addition, HHV–7 was found in some cases of other inflammatory skin disorders, such as psoriasis.
KAPOSI’S SARCOMA VIRUS, ALSO KNOWN AS HUMAN HERPESVIRUS 8 – this virus can cause the disease KS, body cavity based lymphoma (also known as primary effusion lymphoma or PEL) and Castleman’s disease.
A simian (apes or monkeys) virus, called B VIRUS, occasionally infects humans.
All of the eight different known herpesviruses can establish latent infection within specific tissues. These are characteristic for each virus. Latent meaning they remain in the body imbedded in tissue and become reactivated, infecting and killing our cells.
Think about that.
The human herpesviruses share four significant biologic properties. The scariest one to me is the third property. The release of progeny virus from the infected cell (meaning the virus is in our cells making more baby viruses) is accompanied by cell death (which eventually kills the cell). How delightful.
WHO HAS THIS VIRUS?
Nearly every person on Earth. Yup. The CDC and the NIH both claim that 95% of the human population has the EBV. The CDC claims the EBV is one of the most common viruses in humans, and is found all over the world. It’s not alone. More than 40% of the population has the CMV. One hundred percent of the population has the HHV. These are some scary facts people.
Most people in developing countries are infected by EBV during infancy and early childhood and are asymptomatic (meaning they have no symptoms at all) or have nonspecific symptoms. Most people who live in developed nations are infected as adolescents and young adults, and can be asymptomatic or suffer the most common symptoms (listed below) or develop classic mononucleosis.
SYMPTOMS OF THE VIRUS
Remember that these symptoms are for when you first get the virus. It can remain in your system for decades without symptomology (although Anthony Williams suggests that while science thinks the virus is inactive in our system that it’s easily and often triggered back into action. So the symptoms of the different stages of the virus will vary according to the system or organ in your body that it’s attacking).
CDC.GOV – “Many people become infected with EBV in childhood. EBV infections in children usually do not cause symptoms, or the symptoms are not distinguishable from other mild, brief childhood illnesses.
After you get an EBV infection, the virus becomes latent (inactive) in your body. In some cases, the virus may reactivate. This does not always cause symptoms, but people with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop symptoms if EBV reactivates.”
Symptoms of EBV infection can include:
- inflamed throat
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- enlarged spleen
- swollen liver
EBV spreads most commonly through bodily fluids, especially saliva. However, EBV can also spread through blood and semen during sexual contact, blood transfusions, and organ transplantations. Breast milk may also contain the virus, but this is an uncommon route of vertical transmission according to the NIH.
EBV can be spread by using objects, such as a toothbrush or drinking glass, which an infected person recently used. The virus probably survives on an object at least as long as the object remains moist.
The first time you get infected with EBV (primary EBV infection) you can spread the virus for weeks and even before you have symptoms. Once the virus is in your body, it stays there in a latent (inactive) state. If the virus reactivates, you can potentially spread EBV to others no matter how much time has passed since the initial infection.
Diagnosing EBV infection can be challenging since symptoms are similar to other illnesses. EBV infection can be confirmed with a blood test that detects antibodies. About nine out of ten of adults have antibodies that show that they have a known EBV infection. Because one of the biological properties of the virus is latency in the body, it’s folly to say there is a past infection. Any infection by the EBV is a current infection.
Prevention & Treatment
There is no vaccine to protect against EBV infection. You can help protect yourself by not kissing or sharing drinks, food, or personal items, like toothbrushes, with people who have EBV infection. Although there’s a good chance they might not know they have an EBV infection. For instance, 70% of college students become infected by EBV. It’s not because they’re all sharing toothbrushes or kissing. They’re living in tight quarters in a communal living situation. Remember that 95% of the population has an EBV infection.
There is no specific treatment for EBV. However, some things can be done to help relieve symptoms, including
- drinking fluids to stay hydrated
- getting plenty of rest
- taking over-the-counter medications for pain and fever
How EBV Beats Our Body’s’ Defenses
According to Cancer Research UK, “Unlike most infections, EBV isn’t conquered by the body’s immune system response. Instead it waves a white flag and retreats into hiding, lurking inside B cells – a type of white blood cell in the immune system.
This works to the virus’s advantage in the long run. As long as our immune defenses are intact, the virus quietly persists under the radar, spreading from person to person, without us even knowing it’s there.”
EBV Effects on Our Bodies
In addition to the long list of effects on every system in our bodies that Anthony Williams outlines in his book, the CDC and the NIH list the following:
- Infectious Mononucleosis
- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
- Burkitt’s Lymphoma
- Post-transplant Lymphoproliferative Disease
- Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma
- Post-Transplant EBV
Let that sink in. We’re talking about cancer here. Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is incurable. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma takes radiation and chemotherapy. Carcinoma is cancer of the lining of the internal organs. Cancer. If you’re not shocked, you should be.
And this fact, that EBV causes cancer, has been known for decades. Thankfully there’s an entire faction of medical scientists and doctors working with T cells and immunology trying to stop EBV from causing these diseases. They’ve demonstrated a clear understanding of the cancer-causing properties of the virus and are working effectively to fight back.
Cancer Research UK says, “There’s a darker side to EBV infection. There are an estimated 200,000 cancers caused by the virus across the world every year, including lymphomas, nasopharyngeal cancers, and some stomach cancers.
EBV-linked cancers develop due to a combination of factors but they share one thing in common – a swing in the delicate balance between the body’s immune response and the virus. We now know that the ability of our immune defenses to keep the virus in check is one of the crucial barriers stopping cancers forming.
The lack of a robust immune defense against EBV (caused by drugs, disease, or small variations in genes that mean immune cells are less able to spot EBV) allows the normally timid virus to run riot. Then the proteins made by the virus instruct cells to keep dividing – the principle cause of cancer.”
Is There Hope for the Fight Against EBV?
Scientists in the UK are working hard in the lab to try to develop a vaccine against EBV as a preventative measure. Say what you want about vaccinations. Some of the worst pathogens on the planet have stopped decimating the human population with vaccinations. EBV may one day be counted amongst them.
Cancer Research UK – “Vaccinating people at high risk from EBV-linked cancers, such as children in sub-Saharan Africa, to stop them from becoming infected in the first place could make a big impact on cancer rates around the world.
Professor Alan Rickinson, a leading expert in EBV research has seen much in the progress unfold and is optimistic that science is working towards cures.
“Looking back over 50 years of research, one thing that really stands out for me is the journey we’ve come on,” he said. “From people’s skepticism of Epstein’s initial discovery that there was a link to Burkitt’s Lymphoma, to where we are now – the realization that EBV plays a key role in several cancers and an understanding of how the virus does this.””
Learning what I have about this virus, I’m shocked and relieved. Shocked that there’s such a horrible entity at work in over 95% of our bodies creating real and permanent (sometimes lethal) damage and most people have never heard of it before. Relieved that science and medicine are aware of it, have an understanding of how it works, and are working on a way to defeat it.
Pair that with Anthony William’s contribution to the discussion and his thyroid rehab program and I feel optimistic that we can defeat this virus. I’m especially relieved to already be on the road to healing with an extra-strong immune system in place, with the knowledge that this devastating illness is being purged by my body’s defenses.
I am eager to get this information out there and into people’s hands. I had no idea this was happening to so many of us. My mother passed away from complications from Lymphoma (after first being falsely diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), and a part of me wonders if this virus wasn’t somehow a contributing factor.
I encourage everyone to do their own research and learn as much as possible about this and the other herpesviruses. Apparently we all have at least some of them. Talk to your doctors. Live a healthy life. Do what you can. I’ll be right here cheering you all on.
US NATIONAL LIBRARY OF MEDICINE – NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH
CANCER RESEARCH UK
Epstein-Barr Virus: General Factors, Virus-Related Diseases and Measurement of Viral Load After Transplant – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3415781/
Optimal Treatment for Chronic Active Epstein-Barr Virus Disease – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2776035/
Epstein-Barr | Mononucleosis | About Virus | Mono | CDC
Medical Microbiology. 4th Edition: Chapter 68: Herpesviruses