Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a virus that typically causes a mild to moderate illness. Blood tests for Epstein-Barr virus detect antibodies to EBV in the blood and help establish a diagnosis of EBV infection.
Epstein-Barr virus causes an infection that is very common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people in the United States are infected by EBV at some point in their lives. The virus is very contagious and easily passed from person to person. It is present in the saliva of infected individuals and can be spread through close contact such as kissing and through sharing utensils or cups.
After initial exposure to EBV, there is a period of several weeks before associated symptoms may appear, called the incubation period. During the acute primary infection, the virus multiplies in number. This is followed by a decrease in viral numbers and resolution of symptoms, but the virus never completely goes away. Latent EBV remains in the person’s body for the rest of that person’s life and may reactivate but usually causes few problems unless the person’s immune system is significantly weakened.