Is Epstein-Barr Virus Linked to Autoimmune Disease?

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a herpes virus. This is very may lead to mononucleosisalso known as mono.

(EBV) may increase your risk of developing any of the following diseases, according to a 2018 study self-immune disease. The virus appears to “turn on” certain genes, the researchers said. These genes make you more likely to develop one of these diseases.

Scientists have long known the link between EBV and certain autoimmune diseases. However, this is the first study to link all of these diseases to EBV. It’s also the first to explain how and why they link.

This is an important step in understanding this disease category.

This article looks at the link between EBV and seven autoimmune diseases. It also discusses how this may affect you if you have EBV.

Persistence of EBV infection

Epstein-Barr virus is one of the most common viruses that infect humans. Almost everyone carries it.

You most often hear that EBV is the cause of infectious mononucleosis. This condition is also known as single disease or “kissing disease”.

EBV is a member of the herpes virus family. Like other viruses in this group, once you get it, you carry it all the time.

EBVs are usually dormant. If it becomes active again, a healthy immune system can easily put it back into a dormant state.

However, in some people, the initial infection can cause long-term problems. It may activate genes that affect the function of the immune system. This is just one of the possible long-term effects of EBV.


EBV is a member of the herpes family. This is very common. Most people will get it at some point in their lives. It usually stays dormant. However, in some people, it can cause long-term problems.

What is an autoimmune disease?

Your immune system sends out special cells to kill dangerous things. This includes invaders such as viruses and bacteria.

Autoimmunity is like a case of false identity. Your immune system mistakenly targets things that are supposed to be in your body, such as organ or tissue types.

This triggers inflammation and tissue damage. People with these conditions may experience pain. They may also have fatigue. This happens because the body diverts resources to the immune response.

Other symptoms depend on the site of damage. For example, your pancreas produces insulin. Insulin helps your body process sugar. If your immune system attacks your pancreas, you’ll have a hard time processing sugar.


When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakes something in your body for an invader.

Susceptibility and gene conversion

Most of us think of genetics as fixed. However, things are not that simple. Disease, environment and other variables can turn genes on or off.

Think circuit breaker boxes. If you flip a switch, part of your house will lose power. Turn it on and power comes back on. The same thing happens with genes and their positive or negative effects on the body.

Many people are born with genes tendency to certain diseases. This does not mean that they will develop these diseases. They can get them under the right circumstances, though.


Some people are genetically predisposed to develop certain autoimmune diseases. This means they may develop these diseases under the right circumstances.

How the Epstein-Barr virus tricks the immune system

Research in 2018 showed that EBV appears to be able to turn on genes that lead to autoimmune diseases. However, people without a genetic predisposition can become infected with EBV without this happening.

The researchers studied the genetic impact of several proteins in EBV. They found that a protein called Epstein-Barr virus nuclear antigen 2 (EBNA2) interacts with half of the genes known to put people at risk for lupus.

The researchers also looked at hundreds of other diseases. They found the same association in six other people linked to the virus.

The following is a complete list of diseases thought to be associated with EBV:

  • lupus
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • multiple sclerosis
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • type 1 diabetes
  • juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • Celiac disease

The study only looked at EBV in people of European ancestry. However, until now, people of other ancestry were not known to have a different risk profile for EBV.


A 2018 study found that EBV may turn on genes associated with certain autoimmune diseases.

what does this mean to you

This is only the first study to show that EBV can turn on these genes. That means more research is needed.

The study does point to new research directions. Some scientists believe this will change the way we think about autoimmune disease and EBV.

In fact, the research had a swift impact. A multiple sclerosis study published in 2020 mentioned the study and a potential link between EBV and MS. Antiviral treatments for MS are being studied, the researchers added.

Another 2020 study noted: “Infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) appears to be necessary for the development of multiple sclerosis.” Its authors discussed the virus as a treatment for MS.

If the 2018 study is correct, it could lead to more effective treatments for many diseases.

Currently, there is no vaccine against EBV. The 2018 findings could spur more research into vaccines. Vaccines can not only stop the spread of the monovirus, but also potentially prevent a variety of lifelong diseases.


Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a herpes virus. It can cause mononucleosis.

A 2018 study found a link between EBV and seven autoimmune diseases.

In most people, EBV remains dormant. In people who are genetically predisposed to certain autoimmune diseases, it may “turn on” genes associated with those diseases.

Research in 2018 may point to new treatments for autoimmune diseases.

VigorTip words

You may be exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus at some point in your life. If any of these seven autoimmune diseases are prevalent in your family, you may have a genetic predisposition.

If you have been diagnosed with monophonic disease, talk with your doctor about possible increased risk of autoimmune disease.

It is important to know the symptoms of these diseases. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to your long-term health.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the symptoms of Epstein-Barr?

    EBV symptoms include:

    • fatigue
    • fever
    • sore throat
    • swollen lymph nodes
    • enlarged spleen
    • inflamed liver
    • rash
  • Can Epstein-Barr be cured?

    No, Epstein-Barr is a chronic virus with no cure. However, it is usually dormant in the body. When symptoms do appear, they can be treated and managed.

  • How do you prevent yourself from getting Epstein-Barr?

    There is currently no vaccine to prevent Epstein-Barr. There are steps you can take to avoid catching it, though. Do not kiss or share food or drink with someone who has or may have the virus.

  • How common is Epstein-Barr?

    Epstein-Barr is common. About 95% of people will be infected at some point in their lives.