A Quick Look At: Mononucleosis (The Kissing Disease)

Infectious Mononucleosis or “kissing disease”


Mononucleosis is an infectious disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. The term “mononucleosis” refers to the increased number of mononuclear white blood cells found in the bloodstream of an infected person. The most dramatic symptoms are: fever, sore throat, and enlarged lymph nodes and spleen. It is contagious only by direct contact with the saliva of an infected person. This occurs generally through sneezing, coughing or kissing. It may take 20 to 50 days for symptoms to develop. The virus remains present in the saliva for at least six months after recovery.

Most young children become infected with mononucleosis during play, however their symptoms present only as mild fatigue and a fever which resolves over a few days. When mono is contracted during the teen and young adult years, however; the symptoms are more prolonged and exhausting. Your health care provider will recommend what is necessary to relieve your symptoms. Complications due to mononucleosis are rare.

How is mononucleosis diagnosed?

Adolescents and young adults with mononucleosis usually seek medical attention after they realize that their symptoms, primarily the weakness and fatigue, are persisting and there must be more going on than the average cold.

Your health care provider will:

  • ask a series of questions related to how you have been feeling
  • examine you for a sore throat, swollen glands
  • examine your abdomen for an enlarged spleen (occurs in 45% of all cases)
  • perform simple blood tests to determine if you are infected with mono
  • perform a throat culture

How will I feel while I have mono?

A person infected with mononucleosis will feel extremely tired, with little energy for several weeks. Other symptoms include: a low-grade fever, sore throat, swollen glands, nasal congestion, sore muscles and joints, nausea, headache, lack of appetite, possible rash, and sensitivity to light.

Energy levels will be low, therefore the best remedy is rest, rest, and more rest !! Relapses are common as the body fights to regain it’s strength. Occasionally, jaundice (yellow tint to the skin) will occur due to some inflammation of the liver. Complications that affect other body systems, such as heart, lungs, and the nervous system are rare.

What will my health care provider recommend to treat mononucleosis?

There is no specific treatment for mononucleosis. Bedrest and symptomatic relief is all that is available. It’s most important to drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration from fever. Maximize your caloric intake with high-energy foods since your appetite may be poor. Meals and snacks need to be high in protein (meat, chicken, fish, eggs), complex carbohydrates (fortified breads, cereals, pasta), and fruits/vegetables (fresh, raw, or 100% juices).

If you have a sore throat, warm salt-water provides relief and helps kill germs. For fever and aches and pains, over-the-counter medications will be sufficient. Antibiotics will be prescribed if you develop strep throat or pneumonia. Steroids are used only for rare life-threatening complications such as a blocked airway.

Strenuous activity including contact sports should be avoided until you have regained your strength. This is especially important in order to avoid a relapse and the possibility of rupturing the spleen, which may require emergency surgery. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience a sudden, sharp pain in the upper left side of your abdomen.

How can I prevent contracting mononucleosis?

The only prevention is to avoid direct contact (kissing) with anyone that has a known or suspected active infection. Mononucleosis cannot be spread by environmental sources or contact which is not intimate. You may continue your normal activities when feeling well enough to do so. The Epstein-Barr virus remains present in the saliva for at least six months after the primary illness, however the virus will remain present in the body for life.

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