Mononucleosis, more commonly known as "mono" or the "kissing disease,” strikes thousands of kids and young adults every year — but a new study suggests a vaccine targeting the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) may stop the infection in its tracks.
EBV is a member of the herpes virus family and is one of the most common viruses in humans, with nearly all adults in developed countries having been infected. Here in the United States, as many as 95 percent of adults between the ages of 35 and 40 have been infected.
EBV is often asymptomatic but commonly causes infectious mononucleosis, with 30 to 40 percent of adolescents who contract the virus developing the disease. Despite the frequency of EBV infections and infectious mononucleosis, the new study is the first to suggest the effectiveness of a vaccine in preventing infectious mononucleosis.
The study was conducted by Dr. Etienne M. Sokal and colleagues at several Belgian institutions and pharmaceutical companies. The vaccine targets a protein that facilitates the entry of EBV into immune system cells. In a preliminary clinical trial, 181 young adults who had not previously been infected by EBV received three doses of either a placebo or the vaccine.
During the 18-month observation period, the proportion of symptomatic EBV infections was reduced from 10 percent (nine out of 91) in the control group to 2 percent (two out of 90) in the vaccinated group, indicating that those who did not receive the vaccine were almost 5 times more likely to develop infectious mononucleosis.