Glandular Fever, Kissing Disease, Mono: the Many Faces of Mononucleosis

If you know what mononucleosis is, congratulations – your knowledge of infectious diseases is excellent. If you don’t, no worries – the mono virus is not too dangerous… though almost all adults have it!

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Epstein-Barr – one of the commonest viruses

We have already written about the cytomegalovirus – an exceptionally common virus that most of us carry yet few of us ever feel. Epstein-Barr is somwhat similar: it belongs to the family of herpes viruses, it inhabits almost all adults by the age of 35, it remains in your system forever, though you normally only get the actual disease once. Please note: though the disease is called mononucleosis, the virus is called Epstein-Barr! Mononucleosis (or mono) is also known as the kissing disease, since it is frequently transmitted through saliva. However, you can get mono via any body fluids, inclusing coughing, sneezing, sharing food and utensils with others, sexual contact, etc.

Learn the symptoms of mono

Lots of little children get mono, but they usually don’t get any symptoms. Adults over the age of 30 rarely suffer from the disease, sincey they normally carry the virus already (and you normally only get mono once). The risk group are teenagers and students: they easily catch the Epstein-Barr virus at school or university, and getting down with mono can be hard for them, since it is often associated with missing out on classes and other activities. Note that it takes 4-6 weeks after catching the virus for the symptoms to show.

The main symptoms are as follows:

  • Sore throat – often for a week or more;
  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes) – that’s why mono is called glandular fever;
  • High fever;
  • Fatigue;
  • Weakness in the muscles;
  • Swollen spleen.

Getting the diagnosis and treatment

The symptoms of mono resemble those of flu, so it is often misdiagnosed. If your glands remain swollen for over a week and the fever does not subside, your doctor may order a blood test. A simple monospot test is done in just a day but will only reveal mono two weeks into the disease. A more precise test takes a few days but will show all mono antibodies. There is no cure and no vaccine, and antibiotics obviously won’t help – remember, they only help against bacteria! The best treatment is simple:

  • Stay at home and rest;
  • Sleep a lot;
  • Drink lots of water;
  • Take painkillers like ibuprofen but only if you must;
  • Avoid infecting others: don’t share food and drink with them.

Possible complications

While mono by itself is usually not dangerous (and if the virus reactivates, you probably won’t get any symptoms the second time), it can cause some nasty complications:

  1. Spleen rupture – when your spleen is swollen, it can rupture as a result of vigorous physical activity (sports, carrying heavy weights). If you feel a sharp pain in the left side of your abdomen, seek medical help immediately.
  2. Anemia – this is a lack of hemoglobin in your blood, usually caused by iron deficiency; it is expressed in paleness, weakness and fatigue. Make sure to take iron supplements and drink pomegranate juice.
  3. Chronic mono – in rare cases, glandular fever can last for months or years; for this reason the famous Swedish tennis player Robin Soderling had to quit his career.

As you see, mononucleosis is nothing to be afraid about by itself, but its symptoms can be very annoying, and its complications are sometimes dangerous. If you get flu-like symptoms that don’t go away for more than a week, go to a doctor – if it’s mono, you’d better know that.

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