Is EBV Transmitted through Breast Milk?

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Breast Feeding

Most people don’t realize that the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) can be passed through breast milk to an infant.

Most women are infected with the Epstein Barr Virus. The bad part here is that EBV can be transmitted during breast feeding. “We have demonstrated that … EBV may be present in the milk of … normal lactating women (2),” according to a study published in September 2012 in the medical journal BMC Research Notes (1).

The CDC’s website says on a page last updated on May 16, 2006 that as many “as 95% of adults between 35 and 40 years of age have been infected (2).”

In addition, the CDC notes that “Many children become infected with EBV… When infection with EBV occurs during adolescence or young adulthood, it causes infectious mononucleosis 35% to 50% of the time. Symptoms of infectious mononucleosis are fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph glands. Sometimes, a swollen spleen or liver involvement may develop. (2).”

feeding baby


The CDC also says that EBV is associated with “the emergence of Burkitt’s lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma”, two cancers in which the Epstein Barr Virus appears to play an important role.

EBV can cause infectious mononucleosis and “a lifelong (latent) infection in some cells of the body’s immune system (2).”

 “I’ve heard that HIV can be transmitted through breast milk, but I didn’t even think of other viruses being passed in the same way! I bet most moms don’t think about this either.” – Sarah J. (Boston)

The bottom line?

Recognizing how a virus can be passed from mother to infant is the first step. The second obvious step for these mothers is to find a way to help the immune system target the latent form of the virus and eliminate it. – Greg Bennett, CBCD


(1) – EBV – Common Virus – Page last updated: January 7, 2014

(2) Glenn WK1, Whitaker NJ, Lawson JS.”High risk human papillomavirus and Epstein Barr virus in human breast milk.” BMC Res Notes. 2012 Sep 1;5:477

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