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Mononucleosis is known as the “kissing disease,” but what is it, exactly? Commonly referred to as “mono,” this infection typically occurs in teens and young adults. The virus is spread through saliva and often travels quickly through groups of people who are living in close quarters, making outbreaks happen most frequently in dormitory living. Read on to learn more about the virus, its causes and symptoms, and what to do to treat it.
Infectious Mononucleosis (IM) refers to a group of symptoms usually caused by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a common virus that many are exposed to in childhood. Most people get infected with EBV at some point in their lives, with about 85% of adult Americans contracting the virus by age 40. EBV is the most common cause of mono. “Younger children tend to show milder symptoms when affected with IM and are often diagnosed with a viral illness (e.g. common cold) rather than mono,” says Olivier Gherardi, DO, medical director of Lifespan Urgent Care. “However, adolescents and young adults are typically more affected by mono and usually show more of the classic symptoms.”
The infection can be spread through bodily fluids, usually through contaminated saliva and respiratory secretions. While it is often referred to as the kissing disease, you can also spread the virus by sharing utensils, food, or drinks, or if an infected person sneezes or coughs near you.
If you catch mono, symptoms will not begin immediately. The incubation period of the virus is between 4-5 weeks, and symptoms can last between one and two months. Symptoms of mono include:
When you see your physician after experiencing symptoms, you will likely be given a complete physical exam. This may also include a throat culture to rule out strep throat, of which symptoms are similar. If further tests are required to give a definitive diagnosis, your doctor will take a blood sample to check for abnormal white blood cells or antibodies that are actively fighting the illness.
It is best to treat mono with hydration and rest. There is no specific treatment, so doctors mainly aim to ease symptoms. Dr. Gherardi suggests that you take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fever, sore throat, or other discomforts but may prescribe a corticosteroid medication to reduce tonsil swelling. Most people recover from mono after about two weeks, though some symptoms may persist for longer.
Mono, while not serious and very common, can contribute to the cause of secondary infections in the future, such as strep throat, sinus infections, or tonsillitis. Some people report that even the common cold worsens in severity of symptoms after having mono. Rarely, it may cause swelling of the spleen, which requires those affected to rest and refrain from contact sports and heavy lifting for a few weeks. Mononucleosis/EBV remains dormant in your body’s immune system cells for life, but your body’s immune system will remember it and protect you from getting it again. The infection is inactive, but it is possible to reactivate without symptoms and in turn, can be spread to others, though this is quite rare.
Mono is nearly impossible to prevent because the virus stays in your system for life after symptoms, it is possible that it can be spread years after the initial onset, giving mono a constant reservoir of the virus. Presently, there is no commercial vaccine against the disease. Almost all adults have been naturally infected by age 35 and have built up antibodies to protect from the infection.
Not sure if it’s mono? Come see the experts at Lifespan Urgent Care.
The Lifespan Blog Team is working to provide you with timely and pertinent information that will help keep you and your family happy and healthy.