Mono, short for mononucleosis, is a condition usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and, less commonly, cytomegalovirus (CMV). Mono is sometimes called "kissing disease" because it is spread through saliva and close contact.
People are commonly infected with EBV, but it doesn't always lead to symptoms, especially when people become infected as children. In fact, it only causes mono 35-50% of the time, and these cases are usually in young adults and adults. For this reason, age is an important factor in diagnosing mono.
Symptoms of mono can include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph glands
- Swollen tonsils that may or may not have white patches on them
- Swollen liver or spleen (rare)
Because the symptoms of mono can closely resemble strep throat -- which needs to be treated with antibiotics -- it is important to see a doctor. You should go to the emergency room if you cannot swallow or have a high fever that you cannot control. In very rare cases, mono can cause heart problems, so get immediate medical attention if you have chest pain, difficulty breathing, or any other cardiovascular symptoms. Contact your doctor with any other worrisome or unexplained symptoms of mono.
Mono is diagnosed using a mono-spot test, or by testing your antibody levels to EBV or CMV. The symptoms of mono can last quite a while, with an average being 1-2 months. Since the illness is caused by a virus, treatment is aimed at managing the symptoms.
There is no cure for mono. The virus never goes away but becomes dormant. It may become active again, but people rarely experience "mono" twice. Some people can develop chronic fatigue from the Epstein-Barr Virus. Your doctor may suspect chronic fatigue syndrome if your symptoms of mono go on longer than 4 months.
CDC. Epstein-Barr Virus and Infectious Mononucleosis. Accessed: March 29, 2011 from http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/ebv.htm