Predictors of Epstein-Barr virus serostatus in young people in England

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Joanne R Winter
  • Olivia G Thomas
  • Charlotte Jackson
  • Joanna E A Lewis
  • Helen R Stagg

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Centre for Molecular Epidemiology and Translational Research, Institute for Global Health, University College London, London, UK.
  • Current address: MRC Clinical Trials Unit, University College London, London, UK.
  • National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Modelling Methodology, and Medical Research Council Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Public Health, Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College London, London, UK.


BACKGROUND: Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is an important human pathogen which causes lifelong infection of > 90% people globally and is linked to infectious mononucleosis (arising from infection in the later teenage years) and several types of cancer. Vaccines against EBV are in development. In order to determine the most cost-effective public health strategy for vaccine deployment, setting-specific data on the age at EBV acquisition and risk factors for early infection are required. Such data are also important to inform mathematical models of EBV transmission that can determine the required target product profile of vaccine characteristics. We thus aimed to examine risk factors for EBV infection in young people in England, in order to improve our understanding of EBV epidemiology and guide future vaccination strategies.

METHODS: The Health Survey for England (HSE) is an annual, cross-sectional representative survey of households in England during which data are collected via questionnaires and blood samples. We randomly selected individuals who participated in the HSE 2002, aiming for 25 participants of each sex in each single year age group from 11 to 24 years. Stored samples were tested for EBV and cytomegalovirus (CMV) antibodies. We undertook descriptive and regression analyses of EBV seroprevalence and risk factors for infection.

RESULTS: Demographic data and serostatus were available for 732 individuals. EBV seroprevalence was strongly associated with age, increasing from 60.4% in 11-14 year olds throughout adolescence (68.6% in 15-18 year olds) and stabilising by early adulthood (93.0% in those aged 22-24 years). In univariable and multivariable logistic regression models, ethnicity was associated with serostatus (adjusted odds ratio for seropositivity among individuals of other ethnicity versus white individuals 2.33 [95% confidence interval 1.13-4.78]). Smoking was less strongly associated with EBV seropositivity.

CONCLUSIONS: By the age of 11 years, EBV infection is present in over half the population, although age is not the only factor associated with serostatus. Knowledge of the distribution of infection in the UK population is critical for determining future vaccination policies, e.g. comparing general versus selectively targeted vaccination strategies.


Original languageEnglish
Article number1007
JournalBMC Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2019


  • Adolescent, Antibodies, Viral/blood, Child, Cross-Sectional Studies, Cytomegalovirus Infections/blood, England/epidemiology, Epstein-Barr Virus Infections/blood, Female, Herpesvirus 4, Human/immunology, Humans, Logistic Models, Male, Odds Ratio, Prevalence, Risk Factors, Surveys and Questionnaires, Young Adult