What are the Different Types of Epstein-Barr Testing?

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  • Written By: Laura M. Sands
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2019
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Epstein-Barr testing is most often done when symptoms of infectious mononucleosis occur. Testing includes a blood analysis, which encompasses an antibody test and a mononucleosis spot test. An individual whose antibody test returns a positive result is diagnosed based on this result. If a blood analysis during Epstein-Barr testing produces a negative result, but physical symptoms are still present, further antibody testing is ordered to tell if a person is carrying the virus and any other secondary infections associated with its presence in the body.

Without Epstein-Barr testing, most people are unaware that they have become infected by a virus. This is because the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a herpes viral infection, which lies dormant in a person’s body and only activates after a secondary infection occurs, such as mononucleosis. The symptoms of infectious mononucleosis include extreme fatigue, sore throat, fever and swollen lymph nodes. In some people, however, a swollen liver or spleen may also occur, which can present very dangerous EBV complications and can even be life threatening if one of these organs ruptures as a result of swelling.


When symptoms are present, but a blood draw tests negative for the infection, further testing is needed to determine if a secondary infection is triggering EBV, instead. Further Epstein-Barr testing compares antibodies such as the EBV nuclear antigen, capsid antigen and early antigen. Each of these specific antibody tests is designed to tell whether a person has just become infected, has been infected for a longer period or has a secondary infection that has reactivated the virus. Health experts recommend that further testing such as this be handled by a physician experienced with infectious diseases and, in particular, is experienced with Epstein-Barr testing because the interpretation of each of these additional tests can be difficult to understand.

Different types of Epstein-Barr testing are only used to identify the presence of EBV and any other pathogen that may cause it to activate. Beyond identifying the precise illnesses involved, doctors are unable to treat or cure EBV. Treating the physical symptoms of any concurrent viral infection is all that can be done for a person’s comfort until the symptoms of a secondary infection has run its natural course. Different types of Epstein-Barr testing are still important, however. Testing helps in identifying the presence of the virus, as well as any subsequent infections, so that doctors are alerted to the possibility of future EBV complications.


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