By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Infectious Mononucleosis is a common disease. It is caused by a virus called the Ebstein Barr virus (EB virus). About 95 percent of adults show antibodies to the virus. This suggests that most infections are asymptomatic.

It often occurs in college students after Christmas and Easter vacations. That led to it being nicknamed “kissing disease.” That being said, we do know that it is spread easily by saliva.

On Jan. 13, a group of researchers from Harvard University’s School of Public Health published a report on the EB virus. They had studied about 10 million military members over a number of years. 

Every other year they would do blood tests on that group. The tests looked for EB virus infection.

They also followed this group for the development of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Of the study group 955 individuals developed MS during their term of service. Their results showed that individuals who developed EB viral infections during the study period had a 32 times increase in the risk of MS.

They also found a biomarker or nerve degeneration that is common in MS. That biomarker only developed after the EB virus infection.

For years the EB virus has been a suspected cause of MS. This is the first time a study clearly showed that there was some kind of relationship. The symptoms of MS began about 10 years after the actual infection.

The incidence of MS in the population is in the one out of every 3,000 individuals range. Thus it is common. However, it is not that common.

We know that EB virus has an association with celiac disease (gluten enteropathy). We also know that celiac disease has an association with MS. Therefore, the two may have a common cause.

There is currently no cure for EB virus. The only approach that would be successful would be to create an EB virus vaccine. Up to this point, there was no reason to consider doing that for what is a benign infection in most people who get it.

There is clearly more information to come on the subject. However, there is one piece of information that is important right now. EB virus is apparently not as benign as we have always thought.

COVID update- The number of new cases nationally this week was 4,970,000. That compares to 5,733,000 last week. In Sussex County, the number of new cases this week was 3,059. That compares to 5,157 last week.

This suggests that Omicron has already peaked. This is consistent with what was seen in both South Africa and the United Kingdom.

The national media is focused on how many cases of Omicron that there are. They are also focused on how mild it is in vaccinated individuals. Somewhat lost in the shuffle is that it is still a major cause of mortality because of the high overall case numbers.

From April 1, 2020 to Dec 1, 2021, there were 803,000 deaths from COVID. The average for that 21-month period was just under 40,000 deaths per month. From Dec 22, 2021 to Jan 22, 2022 there have been 53,000 deaths from COVID. 

Omicron may be less deadly. However, it is more contagious. For that reason the death toll is actually higher than the previous average.