To measure the virus load in patients with symptomatic Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infections, we used a real-time PCR assay to quantify the amount of EBV DNA in blood. The real-time PCR assay could detect from 2 to over 107 copies of EBV DNA with a wide linear range. We estimated the virus load in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMNC) from patients with symptomatic EBV infections. The mean EBV-DNA copy number in the PBMNC was 103.7 copies/μg of DNA in patients with EBV-related lymphoproliferative disorders, 104.1 copies/μg of DNA in patients with chronic active EBV infections, and 102.2 copies/μg of DNA in patients with infectious mononucleosis. These numbers were significantly larger than those in either posttransplant patients or immunocompetent control patients without EBV-related diseases. In a patient with infectious mononucleosis, the virus load decreased as the symptoms resolved. The copy number of EBV DNA in PBMNC from symptomatic EBV infections was correlated with the EBV-positive cell number determined by the in situ hybridization assay (r = 0.842; P < 0.0001). These results indicate that the real-time PCR assay is useful for diagnosing symptomatic EBV infection and for monitoring the virus load.
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