Mononucleosis, more commonly referred to as mono, is a viral infection that is spread through saliva or close contact, hence its other name, "the kissing disease." Though adults can get it, it is most common in teenagers. If you're a parent, that may leave you thinking that your infected teen must have been spending time at Make-out Point. Not necessarily. Mono can be spread in other ways, such as drinking out of the glass of an infected individual.
Mono is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). According to the CDC, about 95% of the adult population has been infected with EBV. Mononucleosis only occurs in 35% to 50% percent of infections. Although mono can also be caused by cytomegliovirus (CMV), a virus that can be contracted by anyone and may have especially serious consequences in people who are immunocompromised or pregnant, it is rare.
Symptoms of Mono
Symptoms of mono are unique to individuals but may include the following:
- extreme fatigue
- sore throat
- swollen lymph nodes (especially in the neck)
- achy, sore muscles
- poor appetite
About.com's Symptom Checker is a great place to start to help decode whether or not your symptoms, or those of your teen, could be being caused by mono. For even more information read Symptoms of Mono.
Your doctor will usually perform a thorough exam before ordering blood work or prescribing treatment. He will be looking for swollen lymph nodes in the neck and swollen tonsils, which may be covered in white or yellow patches. In severe cases, the doctor may be able to feel an enlarged liver or spleen when pushing on your belly.
If the doctor suspects mono, he may order blood work which will usually reveal a higher than normal amount of white blood cells (cells that fight off infection). A monospot test can also be done using the blood sample. This test will show if you have had an Epstein-Barr infection; another blood test will show if that infection is current or has happened in past and been resolved.
Treating MonoBecause mono is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not cure it -- sometimes antibiotics can even cause harm. The best way to manage the infection is to:
- get plenty of rest
- drink plenty of fluids
- manage sore throat pain
- use Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) for fever
Managing Pain from Mono
As mentioned above, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are useful in reducing a fever and treating sore throat pain. You may also try to gargle with warm salt water to ease the pain of a sore throat or suck on a cough drop or other throat lozenge. Cold fluids also help to reduce pain and swelling in the back of the throat.
Achy muscles can be treated using over-the-counter muscle ointments, such as Icy Hot, or by using hot pads. A warm bath may also be beneficial in easing aches and pains.
Consult your doctor or pharmacist before combining over-the-counter medications with prescription medications.
Prognosis and Incidence of Mono
Mono is practically never fatal. The virus has been implicated in nasopharyngeal cancer and Burkitt's lymphoma, but these cancers are rare.
Unfortunately, even usual mono is an infection that takes a while to recover from. You should start to feel better after about 10 days, though it can take as long as 3 months to fully recover.
Some individuals can develop chronic fatigue as a result of an Espstein-Barr virus infection. Once you're infected, this virus will stay in your blood for the rest of your life, although you won't always be contagious. The virus goes through periods where it is active and contagious, and long stretches of time where the virus remains dormant. Even if the virus is active, you usually won't feel sick, so it's impossible to know when you are contagious (making the potential of infecting others unavoidable).
Sources:CDC. Epstein Barr Virus and Infectious Mononucleosis. Accessed: April 20, 2009 from http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/ebv.htm
Medline Plus Medical Encylopedia. Mononucleosis. Accessed: April 20,2009 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000591.htm