Mono has many of the same symptoms of the flu, so it's important to know what else to look out for in case you or someone in your family comes down with this infection. Learn the basics, as well as who is most at risk, in the helpful information that follows.
Mononucleosis, or "the kissing disease," is a common infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a member of the herpesvirus family. As its nickname implies, kissing can spread the disease, but it can sometimes be transmitted indirectly through mucus and saliva released in the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Most people are exposed to EBV during childhood, but the majority will not develop mononucleosis. People who have been infected with EBV will carry it for the rest of their lives, even if they never have recognizable mono.
However, EBV can cause serious illness, especially a lymph gland cancer such as Burkitt's lymphoma, in people with compromised immune systems, including those with HIV/AIDS and those on medications to suppress immunity following an organ transplant.
EBV can be found in the saliva for six months or more after a case of mono. Because people carry EBV for life, it can periodically reappear in the saliva. According to the National Institutes of Health, EBV is one of the world's most successful viruses, infecting more than 95 percent of the adult population over time.
A blood test is the best way to diagnose mononucleosis, but common symptoms include fever; sore throat; constant fatigue or weakness; headaches; sore muscles; enlarged spleen and liver; skin rash; abdominal pain; and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms, or groin. Mono is often mistaken for strep throat or the flu.
Mononucleosis will go away on its own in about four weeks, but teenagers and adults might experience fatigue and weakness for several months. If you or your child has an enlarged spleen and swollen lymph nodes, avoid sports for at least a month. An enlarged spleen can rupture, causing abdominal pain and bleeding. Emergency surgery will be necessary if this happens.
Antiviral medication is usually not needed to treat mononucleosis, but a physician may prescribe prednisonelike steroids to very sick people with the disease.
Who's at Risk for Mono
Infants and children younger than 4 who are infected with EBV usually have very mild symptoms or none at all. Teenagers are most at risk for developing mono -- the peak ages for infection are 15 to 17.
Defensive Measures Against Mono
There is no vaccine for EBV. However, there are steps you can take to try to prevent mono:
- Wash hands frequently.
- Avoid close contact with those who have mono.
- Do not let your child share cups, bowls, glasses, or utensils with someone who is infected.
- Never allow your child to share a toothbrush.
- Use disposable paper cups and paper towels in the bathroom.
- Do not share toys, teething rings, or similar items.
- Frequently wash and sterilize pacifiers and bottles.
- Disinfect shared surfaces, such as tabletops, kitchen counters, and play equipment.
- Make it clear, especially to teenagers, that kissing a person infected with mono is off-limits.
How can you determine if your sore throat is actually strep throat? Learn about telltale signs on the next page.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.