CD8+ lymphocyte phenotypes were characterized during acute Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, and a comparison was made to previous studies of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This was of interest because CD8+ cells contribute to immunologic control of both infections, but the usual outcome of EBV infection is benign, whereas untreated HIV infection is fatal. During acute EBV infection, CD8+ cells expressed elevated levels of the activation antigens CD38 and HLA-DR, similar to that during chronic HIV infection. Within 16 weeks, when EBV latency is established, CD8+ cell activation had resolved. In contrast, activation persists in HIV infection. Expression of CD38 and HLA-DR on CD8+ cells could be a marker for ongoing viral replication in both infections. Other CD8+ cell alterations observed in this study of acute EBV infection included increases in both CD62L- and CD62L+ CD8+ cells and unique kinetics in the expansion of the CD57+CD8+ cell subset.