Glandular Fever: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

What is Glandular Fever

What is Glandular Fever?

Glandular fever is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and is one of the most common viruses that can affect humans. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are over 3 million cases of glandular fever in the US every year.

Most EBV infections occur during early childhood. They usually produce few or no symptoms. Afterwards, the virus will remain in the body for life, lying dormant in a number of throat and blood cells.

When an EBV infection occurs during the teenage years, or early adulthood, it will lead to the development of glandular fever. This is why the majority of glandular fever cases occur in teenagers and young people aged between 15 and 25. Nonetheless, the condition can affect people of any age group.

During the infection, the immune system fabricates antibodies to fight the virus. This then provides lifelong immunity. Therefore, it is rare to have more than one bout of glandular fever.

The virus is contagious. It can be passed on by coming into contact with the saliva of someone who is currently infected with the condition. As may occur when kissing, hence its other name – the kissing disease, via coughs and sneezes and when sharing cutlery and crockery, such as cups, plates and spoons.

A person remains contagious for at least two months after initial infection with EBV. Some people can have EBV in their saliva for up to 18 months after infection.

There is no cure for glandular fever. In most cases, the majority of the symptoms should pass within four to six weeks without treatment. Fatigue can sometimes persist for longer. In most people, fatigue will end after three months. Full recovery is usual.

Complications of glandular fever are uncommon, but can be serious. They include a ruptured spleen, which would require emergency surgery, or a secondary infection of the lungs such as pneumonia.

What causes Glandular Fever?

Glandular fever is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). This virus is found in the saliva of infected people and can be spread through:

  • kissing  glandular fever is often referred to as the “kissing disease”
  • exposure to coughs and sneezes
  • sharing eating and drinking utensils, such as cups, glasses and unwashed cutlery

EBV may be found in the saliva of someone who has had glandular fever for several months after their symptoms pass, and some people may continue to have the virus in their saliva on and off for years.

If you have EBV, it’s a good idea to take steps to avoid infecting others while you are ill, such as not kissing other people, but there’s no need no need to avoid all contact with others as the chances of passing on the infection are generally low.

How Glandular Fever is spread

Glandular fever is spread from person-to-person through contact with saliva. Young children may be infected by saliva on the hands of care givers or by sucking and sharing toys, but the virus does not survive very well in the environment. Kissing results in spread among young adults.

What are the symptoms of Glandular Fever?

One or more of the following symptoms commonly occur for about a week or so. Symptoms then usually gradually settle over another week.

  • Sore throat. Although this may be mild, your throat is usually very sore, red and swollen. Glandular fever is typically suspected when a tonsillitis is severe and lasts longer than usual. Swallowing is often painful and saliva may pool in your mouth.
  • Swollen glands. As your body’s immune system fights off the virus it causes the lymph glands to swell. Any lymph gland in the body can be affected. However, the glands in the neck are usually the most prominent. They can become quite large and tender.
  • Flu-like symptoms. Like other viral infections, glandular fever often causes a high temperature (fever), muscle aches and headaches. It can make you feel quite unwell.
  • Malaise. A feeling of intense tiredness often develops with glandular fever. This is often the last symptom to go.
  • Swelling around eyes. About 1 in 5 people with glandular fever become quite puffy and swollen around the eyes. This goes in a short time.
  • Spleen. This is an organ under the ribs on the left side of the tummy (abdomen). It is part of the immune system. Like the lymph glands, it swells and can sometimes be felt below the ribs if you have glandular fever. Very occasionally, it causes mild pain in the upper left abdomen.
  • No symptoms. Many people become infected with this virus but do not develop symptoms. This is called a subclinical infection. This is more common in children and in those aged over 40 years.

How is Glandular Fever treated ?

There’s no efficient treatment of infections caused by the Epstein-Barr virus other than to ease the symptoms.

Once you have had glandular fever, you will develop a high resistance to further infection. However, if your immune system is weak, the virus may be reactivated. You cannot be immunised against glandular fever.

In severe cases, antibiotics or corticosteroids (steroids) may be recommended for complications of glandular fever.

To prevent the spread of glandular fever:

  • Make sure you use proper hygiene, including handwashing.
  • Avoid sharing drink containers.
  • Disinfect articles soiled with nose and throat discharges, for example, handkerchiefs.

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