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HomeHealth A-Z Mononucleosis
Mononucleosis (Mono)
The best ways to prevent mono are to stay away from those who are infected, wash your hands frequently, don't share drinks, and always cover your mouth when you cough.



Definition of Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis is an infection that occurs when the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) invades the monocyte white blood cells and causes fever, sore throat, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.

Description of Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis is a viral disease that occurs most frequently in the adolescent population. You have probably heard this illness referred to simply as “mono” because it is a lot shorter and easier to say. The following information about mono will help you to learn more about the disease and to keep yourself informed about treatment options and prevention.

Mono is a very common illness, especially among adolescents. The reason it affects mostly young people is because the majority of adults were infected with it when they were young and developed antibodies against it. It is believed that approximately 90% of Americans over 35 are immune to mono.

Mono affects individuals differently - some get mild cases and others develop severe cases. It is interesting to note that when mono affects small children, and it often does, it is more like the flu or cold rather than a full blown illness the way it presents itself in adolescence or even in adulthood.

Mono can be misleading, too, since many times it begins with symptoms similar to those of the flu. People are lethargic and tired, have a fever, and many times a headache. Then, instead of getting better after a few days the illness gets worse. Lymph glands begin to swell, typically in the neck, but not everyone with mono will have this symptom. The tonsils become inflamed and lots of mono sufferers have sore throats, even strep throat. Sometimes in severe cases sufferers develop a fever up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which may last for weeks.

About half of all individuals with mono have an enlarged spleen, which results in the top left area of the abdomen to be really sensitive. Generally, the liver is affected to some degree. Nevertheless, few individuals actually develop jaundice because of it. In very rare cases the spleen actually ruptures. Others develop a red rash that spreads all over their body. Still others may develop spots in their mouth that appear like bruises.

Typically, mono runs its course in two to three weeks, but some people will still feel lethargic for several months. In some situations individuals have attacks that recur for up to a year becoming milder each time.


Causes and Risk Factors of Mononucleosis

The Epstein Barr virus causes mono and it was found in 1964 by a couple of British researchers. However, mono as an actual illness had been found years before. Mono is a member of the family of herpes viruses and is most commonly spread through saliva. The most common way of passing the diseases is how the nickname “the kissing disease” came about. But, any exchange of saliva from coughing to drinking after someone could cause the virus to be spread.

Even after an individual feels well and seems to have recuperated it is possible that the virus is still active in the person's body. But, just because you are in close contact with someone infected with mono does not mean that you will get it because a strong immune system may fight off the disease.

Symptoms of Mononucleosis

The first symptoms of mono include muscle aches, fatigue, sore throat, headache, chills, and a fever. Then, individuals will begin to experience swollen lymph nodes, an enlarged spleen, possibly jaundice, and even a skin rash. If any of these symptoms seem to linger or become more severe then call your doctor as quickly as possible.

Diagnosis of Mononucleosis

A quick blood smear reveals many atypical white blood cells and this makes the diagnosis easy. The two blood tests used to test for mono include a monospot test and the heterophil antibodies test. Doctors also use a complete medical exam to look for an enlarged spleen and an enlarged liver in addition to swollen lymph nodes.

Treatment of Mononucleosis

Many individuals with mono will receive no treatment at all other than just rest. Generally the disease will resolve on its own in time. Lots of fluids and plenty of rest are all that is necessary to get over a bout of mono. Once the fever goes away then normal activities may be resumed slowly and with great care.

However, individuals who suffer from swollen lymph nodes and a fever may take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve the pain and discomfort. Sore throats may be treated by drinking cold drinks and juices, as well as eating broths, and cool foods in general. Some individuals will have strep throat in addition to mono and they will be given an antibiotic. Individuals who have an enlarged spleen should not participate in any contact sports or activities for four weeks.

The majority of individuals recover within a month and a half or two months. However, some individuals are sick for six months to a year. The good news is that after an individual has suffered from mono he/she is very unlikely to suffer from it again, especially after a year has passed.

In some instances an individual may experience other symptoms that are life threatening or dangerous. These include abdominal pain, difficult breathing, pale skin, sinus pain, difficulty swallowing, bleeding into the skin, long term fever, difficult sleeping, and other symptoms that seem to be prolonged or severe.

Prevention of Mononucleosis

The best way to prevent mono is to stay away from those who are infected. Also, never share drinks and always cover your mouth when you cough. Frequent hand washing is necessary as well. Also, maintaining a high immune system by eating well and getting enough sleep is important and will offer some protection against mono.


External Resources

Mayo Clinic


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