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What is infectious mononucleosis?
Infectious mononucleosis, “mono,” “kissing disease,” and glandular fever are all terms popularly used for the very common infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). The characteristic symptoms of infection with EBV include fever, fatigue, malaise, and sore throat.
The designation “mononucleosis” refers to an increase in a particular type of mononuclear white blood cells (lymphocytes) in the bloodstream relative to the other white blood cells as a result of the EBV infection. Scientifically, EBV is classified as a member of the herpesvirus family.
The disease was first described in 1889 and was referred to as “Drüsenfieber,” or glandular fever. The term infectious mononucleosis was first used in 1920 when an increased number of lymphocytes were found in the blood of a group of college students who had fever and symptoms of the condition.
Symptoms of infectious mononucleosis
Signs and symptoms of mononucleosis may include:
- General feeling of unwellness (malaise)
- Sore throat, perhaps a strep throat that doesn’t get better with antibiotic use
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck and armpits
- Swollen tonsils
- Skin rash
- Soft, swollen spleen
The virus has an incubation period of approximately four to six weeks, although in young children this period may be shorter. Signs and symptoms such as fever and sore throat usually lessen within a couple of weeks, although fatigue, enlarged lymph nodes and a swollen spleen may last for a few weeks longer.
What Causes infectious mononucleosis?
Mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), EBV is a member of the herpesvirus family and is one of the most common viruses to infect humans around the world (CDC).
The virus is spread through direct contact with saliva from the mouth of an infected person and cannot be spread through blood contact. You can be exposed to the virus by a cough or sneeze, by kissing, or by sharing food or drinks with someone who has mono. It usually takes four to eight weeks for symptoms to develop after you are infected.
In adolescents and adults, the infection causes noticeable symptoms in 35 to 50 percent of cases. In children, the virus typically causes no symptoms and the infection often goes unrecognized (CDC).
How is infectious mononucleosis transmitted or spread?
Mono is spread by person-to-person contact. Saliva is the primary method of transmitting mono, which leads to the infection of B lymphocytes in the mouth and throat. Infectious mononucleosis developed its common name of “kissing disease” from this prevalent form of transmission among teenagers.
It typically takes between four to eight weeks for symptoms of mono to appear after the initial infection with EBV. A person with mono can also pass the disease by coughing or sneezing, causing small droplets of infected saliva and/or mucus to be suspended in the air which can be inhaled by others.
Sharing food or beverages from the same container or utensil can also transfer the virus from one person to another since contact with infected saliva may result.
High-Risk Groups for infectious mononucleosis?
The following groups have a higher risk for getting mono:
- young people between the ages of 15 and 25
- people on immune system–suppressing drugs
Anyone who regularly comes into close contact with large numbers of people is at an increased risk for mono. This is why high school and college students frequently become infected.
Home Treatment for infectious mononucleosis
Self-care is usually all that is needed if you have mono. Unless you have a serious complication of mono (which rarely occurs), no medicine or treatment will speed your recovery. Most people who have mono recover without problems. There are many steps you can take to ease the symptoms until you are back to normal.
- Listen to your body. Don’t push yourself when you have mono. If you feel tired, it is important to rest and give your body a chance to heal.
- Rest in bed. You probably won’t feel like working or going to school anyway, and rest is very important.
- Avoid contact sports and heavy lifting for several weeks after you become ill with mono (or until a doctor tells you it is okay) to reduce the risk of injuring your spleen.
- Take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil) to reduce fever and to relieve a headache and sore throat. Do not give aspirin to anyone under the age of 20, because its use has been linked with Reye syndrome, a serious illness. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Soothe your sore throat with cool liquids and saltwater gargles [1 tsp (5 g) of salt in 8 fl oz (237 mL) of warm water]. Hard candies or throat lozenges might help too. If your child has a sore throat, candy or lozenges are okay if he or she is at least 4 years old. And most children can gargle at age 8 and older.
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially if you have a fever. This will help prevent dehydration.
Your symptoms will gradually improve over 2 to 3 weeks. You should be able to return to your normal activities within about a month.