• Oral hairy leukoplakia is an abnormality on the side of the tongue
  • It is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
  • It occurs in people with a weakened immune system
  • Oral hairy leukoplakia may indicate a first manifestation of AIDS





Oral hairy leukoplakia has white stripes or white plaques on the side of the tongue.
It's pattern has a hairy character, hence its name. The stripes or plaques cannot be scraped off the tongue.


Oral hairy leukoplakia is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Many people carry this virus with them, but have no complaints because they have a good immune system. The body's good defense ensures that EBV is kept under control. If the immune system is compromised, the virus can play up and cause complaints.

Risk group

Groups at risk for having an EBV infection for a long time are people who have a weakened immune system. Causes of a weakened immune system are immune-suppressing medication (for example with an organ transplant) or diseases such as leukemia and HIV. Oral hairy leukoplakia often occurs at a later stage of an HIV infection.

HIV and leukoplakia

With an HIV infection, the immune system is weakened. Within a body with a weakened immune system, EBV is no longer sufficiently suppressed and can cause oral hairy leukoplakia.
HIV indicator conditions are conditions or symptoms that occur more often in people with an underlying HIV infection than in people without an HIV infection. Oral hairy leucoplakia is one of the HIV indicator conditions. If you have or have had oral hairy leucoplakia and have not been tested for HIV, it is advisable to ask your doctor or general practitioner for an HIV test. Find it difficult to ask for an HIV test? You may download a call card that will help you formulate your question.