What Is Infectious Mononucleosis?
Infectious mononucleosis, often simply called mono, is a contagious illness that is also known as “the kissing disease.” While mononucleosis primarily affects adolescents and young adults, it’s usually not life-threatening. A person infected with mono is advised to rest and refrain from daily activities for several weeks.
Mono is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and can be easily spread through:
- Saliva, usually with respiratory droplets expelled while coughing or sneezing, or kissing
- Sharing items, such as a drinking glass or eating utensil, with someone who is infected
The symptoms of mono always appear in combinations. A patient who experiences two of more of the following signs may be infected.
- Fatigue — This intense sense of tiredness persists over a period of weeks or months. If it lasts more than six months, additional medical intervention is required.
- Fever — An abnormally high body temperature of 100.4 F or higher may persist for up to two weeks.
- Headache — A constant headache can last up to two weeks following the onset of fever.
- Skin rash — A pink, measles-like rash can occur, and is more likely if you take the medicine ampicillin or amoxicillin for a throat infection.
- Soft, swollen spleen — An enlargement of the spleen may occur, creating a sense of fullness even if you haven’t eaten anything or have eaten very little.
- Sore throat — A sore throat may last seven to 21 days. However, in severe cases of mono it may last as long as six months.
- Swollen lymph nodes — A person infected with mono may experience swelling of the lymph nodes, primarily in the neck.
- Swollen tonsils — Following the development of a sore throat, the tonsils become swollen and develop a whitish, yellowish covering.
The incubation period for mono is usually four to six weeks. Fever and sore throat lessen after a few weeks, but fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and swollen spleen may continue for a few weeks longer.
Generally, your doctor will recommend plenty of rest and hydration until symptoms are resolved and normal activity can be resumed, usually within two months. There is no specific treatment for infectious mononucleosis, but secondary infections that accompany the illness may be treated with:
- Antibiotics — If mononucleosis’s sore throat is caused by a streptococcal (strep) infection, or the tonsils become infected, the doctor will treat the infections with prescription antibiotics.
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