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Epstein-Barr Virus Test

What Is Epstein-Barr Virus?

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a very common virus that causes mononucleosis and other illnesses. Most people carry the virus, but do not have illness.

Reason for the Test

The EBV test checks for antibodies in the blood. The immune system makes antibodies to fight infection. Having antibodies can help diagnose mononucleosis and other EBV-related conditions. It also can find if the infection is current or if it happened in the past.

Type of Sample Taken

Blood is taken from a vein in the arm.

Prior to Collecting the Sample

Tell your doctor about any medicines or supplements you are taking. They may affect the test results.

During the Sample Collection

You will be asked to sit. An area inside your elbow will be cleaned. A large band will be tied around your arm. The needle will then be inserted into a vein. A tube will collect the blood from the needle. The band on your arm will be removed. Once all the blood is collected, the needle will be removed. Some gauze will be placed over the site to help stop bleeding. You may also be given a bandage to place over the site. The process takes about 5 to 10 minutes.

After Collecting the Sample

After the blood sample is taken, you may need to stay seated for 10 to 15 minutes. If you are lightheaded, you may need to stay seated longer. When you feel better, you can leave.

A bit of blood may ooze from the vein beneath the skin. It will cause a bruise. A bruise will usually fade in a day or two.

Call your doctor right away if you have redness, swelling, lasting bleeding, or pain.

Results

Results may take from several days to weeks depending on the lab.

A positive test result means EBV antibodies are present. Another test may be done 10 to 14 days after the first test. This is because the antibodies are harder to detect when an EBV infection is in early stages. An EBV infection is likely if the antibodies are present or their numbers increase between the 2 tests.

Many factors can affect the reliability of lab tests. A test may suggest an illness that actually does not exist. This is called a false positive. A test may also miss an illness that actually does exist. This is called a false negative.

REFERENCES:

Epstein-Barr virus and infectious mononucleosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/epstein-barr/index.html. Updated May 18, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2019.

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) antibody tests. Lab Tests Online—American Association for Clinical Chemistry website. Available at: https://labtestsonline.org/tests/epstein-barr-virus-ebv-antibody-tests. Updated December 19, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2019.

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T904534/Epstein-Barr-virus-EBV-infection. Updated July 18, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2019.

Epstein-Barr virus serology. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906876/Epstein-Barr-virus-serology. Updated October 8, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2019.

Last reviewed February 2019 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 4/16/2019