Herpesviruses are leading causes of infectious blindness and death in immunocompromised individuals. Impaired cellular immunity, which is known to result in increased frequency and severity of herpesvirus infections, has been demonstrated both during and after spaceflight. Therefore, we examined whether Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a well-characterized latent herpesvirus, undergoes reactivation in astronauts. Sera from Shuttle astronauts, taken before and after spaceflight, were examined for evidence of EBV reactivation. The geometric mean antibody titer to EBV viral capsid antigen (VCA) was significantly increased prior to flight compared to baseline (p = 0.0001). After spaceflight, evidence of acute lytic replication was found in which 8- to 64-fold increases in EBV early antigen (EA) antibodies occurred without significant increases in antibodies to measles virus. Additionally, stress-induced shifts in circulating leukocytes and elevated levels of urinary cortisol and epinephrine were found. Overall, significant increases in EA or high VCA/EA antibody titers were found in 8 of 23 (35%) male astronauts and 3 of 5 (60%) female astronauts. These results indicate that stress reactivates EBV prior to flight and suggest that acute lytic replication of EBV occurs during spaceflight.

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