Early Age at Time of Primary Epstein–Barr Virus Infection Results in Poorly Controlled Viral Infection in Infants From Western Kenya: Clues to the Etiology of Endemic Burkitt Lymphoma

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(See the editorial commentary by Bagni and Whitby, on pages 873–4.)

Background. Infection with Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) early in life and repeated malaria exposure have been proposed as risk factors for endemic Burkitt lymphoma (eBL).

Methods. Infants were enrolled from 2 rural sites in Kenya: the Kisumu District, where malaria transmission is holoendemic and risk for eBL is high, and the Nandi District, where malaria transmission is limited and the risk for eBL is low. Blood samples were taken from infants through 2 years of age to measure EBV viral load, EBV antibodies, and malaria parasitemia.

Results. We observed a significantly younger age at time of primary EBV infection in children from Kisumu compared with children from Nandi (mean age, 7.28 months [±0.33 SEM] in Kisumu vs 8.39 months [±0.26 SEM] in Nandi), with 35.3% of children in Kisumu infected before 6 months of age. To analyze how different predictors affected EBV viral load over time, we performed multilevel mixed modeling. This modeling revealed that residence in Kisumu and younger age at first EBV infection were significant predictors for having a higher EBV viral load throughout the period of observation.

Conclusions. Children from a region at high risk for eBL were infected very early in life with EBV, resulting in higher viral loads throughout infancy.

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