The hidden hazards of Epstein-Barr Virus

Much more “sneaky” seems to be the Epstein-Barr virus, which is mainly known as the cause of infectious mononucleosis. According to a new American scientific research, it also increases the risk that some people will still have seven serious autoimmune diseases.

So far, there have been relevant indications, but it is the first time that the Epstein-Barr Virus-EBV (as its English name) is confirmed – and the relevant biological mechanism is discovered – can lead to multiple illnesses. An EBV virus protein, EBNA2, binds to various parts of the human genome, which are associated with other conditions beyond mononucleosis.

These seven conditions are lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and type 1 diabetes.

Researchers, who published the publication in the journal Nature Genetics, said that the proteins produced by the EBV virus interact widely with human DNA, triggering the risk genes for various diseases, resulting in a great increase in the genetic risk for the outbreak of these diseases.

This particular virus is very common, as in the developed countries it infects over 90% of the population over 20 years. After the initial infection, usually at the beginning of childhood or adolescence, with indiscriminate or no symptoms, the virus remains in the human body forever, also without symptoms. Infectious mononucleosis is the most known condition caused by it and which spreads mainly through saliva (and therefore kiss).

In previous years, scientists had evidence that the virus is also associated with some other rare diseases, such as cancers of the lymphatic system. However, new research shows that the risk is also about known conditions that many millions of people suffer around the world.

“Discovery will most likely be considered important enough to encourage other scientists worldwide to study the relationship of the virus to these conditions, which can lead to new treatments and prevention methods that are not available today,” said one of the lead investigators, Dr. John Harley of the Children’s Hospital and the Cincinnati Veterans Medical Center.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent EBV infection, but some vaccines are already under development. It is not yet clear – but can be done in the future – how many incidents of the seven above-mentioned autoimmune diseases are related to the infection with the virus.

“It is likely that the incidence of EBV varies from disease to disease. In lupus erythematosus and multiple sclerosis, probably a large percentage of patients are due to the virus, but we still have no idea what the percentage for other autoimmune diseases may be, “Harley said.

The researchers stressed that many other genes that do not interact with the virus’s proteins increase the genetic risk of seven autoimmune diseases and that EBV infection is not the only contributing factor to them.