A study has shown that people living in large households or in families with smokers are at a significantly higher risk of Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) infection. EBV is well-known as the virus that can cause Mononucleosis, also known as the “kissing disease.” (1)
As Dr. Jennifer Beam Dowd and colleagues wrote in a study that, “suppressed immune function as a result of stress, poor nutrition, smoking, or other environmental exposures could increase susceptibility to infections given equal levels of exposure … prevalence was seen for non-white children and those with lower household income and education, children born outside the U.S., obese children, children with a smoker in the house, and children living in a larger household.” (1) Dr. Dowd is from the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York.
This rise in the risk of infection is due to the fact that smoking harms the immune system, allowing the EBV to attack the body and infect it more effectively. Further, people living in crowded homes have a higher chance of coming into contact with someone already infected with the virus. These crowded conditions can also lead to infectious mononucleosis since “Persons with infectious mononucleosis may be able to spread the infection to others for a period of weeks.” (CDC) (2)
The researchers wrote that “Environmental factors associated with socioeconomic status, such as household crowding or use of public transportation, could contribute directly to exposure risk. Suppressed immune function as a result of stress, poor nutrition, smoking, or other environmental exposures could increase susceptibility to infections given equal levels of exposure.” (1)
The CDC notes that “In the United States, as many as 95% of adults between 35 and 40 years of age have been infected.” And, “When infection with EBV occurs during adolescence or young adulthood, it causes infectious mononucleosis 35% to 50% of the time.” (2)
EBV establishes a lifelong dormant (latent) infection in some cells of the body’s immune system and can lead to various diseases over time.
The bottom line?
If you come from a large family, you smoke, and your family background is not Caucasian, you are at an increased risk for viral mononucleosis, and other diseases caused by infection with the Epstein Barr virus.
(1) Jennifer Beam Dowd,* Tia Palermo, Jennifer Brite, Thomas W. McDade, and Allison Aiello “Seroprevalence of Epstein-Barr Virus Infection in U.S. Children Ages 6-19, 2003-2010″PLoS One. 2013; 8(5): e64921
(2) CDC.gov – Epstein-Barr Virus and Infectious Mononucleosis – Page last updated: January 7, 2014