Infectious mononucleosis (mono) is often called the kissing disease. The virus that causes mono is transmitted through saliva, so you can get it through kissing, but you can also be exposed through a cough or sneeze, or by sharing a glass or food utensil with someone who has mono. However, mononucleosis isn't as contagious as some infections, such as the common cold.
You're most likely to get mononucleosis with all the signs and symptoms if you're an adolescent or young adult. Young children usually have few symptoms, and the infection often goes unrecognized.
If you have mononucleosis, it's important to be careful of certain complications such as an enlarged spleen. Rest and adequate fluids are key to recovery.
Signs and symptoms of mononucleosis may include:
The virus typically has an incubation period of four to eight weeks, although in young children this period may be shorter. Signs and symptoms such as fever and sore throat usually lessen within a couple of weeks, although fatigue, enlarged lymph nodes and a swollen spleen may last for a few weeks longer.
When to see your doctor
If rest and a healthy diet don't ease your symptoms within a week or two or if your symptoms recur, see your doctor.
The cause of mononucleosis is the Epstein-Barr virus, although similar signs and symptoms are sometimes caused by cytomegalovirus.
Mononucleosis usually isn't very serious. Most adults have been exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus and have built up antibodies. They're immune and won't get mononucleosis again.
Enlargement of the spleen
Less common complications
The Epstein-Barr virus can cause much more serious illness in people who have impaired immune systems, such as people with HIV/AIDS or people taking drugs to suppress immunity after an organ transplant.
The spleen is a small organ normally about the size of your fist. But a number of conditions, including liver disease and some cancers, can cause your spleen to become enlarged. ...
Preparing for your appointment
If you suspect you have mononucleosis, you're likely to start by seeing your family doctor. Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For mononucleosis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Treatments and drugs
There's no specific therapy available to treat infectious mononucleosis. Antibiotics don't work against viral infections such as mono. Treatment mainly involves bed rest and adequate fluid intake.
Lifestyle and home remedies
In addition to getting plenty of bed rest, these steps can help relieve symptoms of mononucleosis:
Wait to return to sports and some other activities
To avoid risk of rupturing your spleen, wait at least one month before returning to vigorous activities, heavy lifting, roughhousing or contact sports. Rupture of the spleen results in severe bleeding and is a medical emergency.
Ask your doctor when it's safe for you to resume your normal level of activity. Your doctor may recommend a gradual exercise program to help you rebuild your strength as you recover.
Coping and support
Mononucleosis can be a prolonged condition, keeping you at home for weeks as you recover. But be patient with your body as it fights the infection.
For young people, having mononucleosis will mean some missed activities — classes, team practices and parties. Without doubt, you'll need to take it easy for a while. Students need to let their schools know they are recovering from mononucleosis and may need special considerations to keep up with their work.
If you have mononucleosis, you don't necessarily need to be quarantined. Many people are already immune to the Epstein-Barr virus because of exposure as children. But plan on staying home from school and other activities until you're feeling better.
Seek the help of friends and family as you recover from mononucleosis. College students should also contact the campus student health center staff for assistance or treatment, if necessary.
Mononucleosis is spread through saliva. If you're infected, you can help prevent spreading the virus to others by not kissing them and by not sharing food, dishes, glasses and utensils until several days after your fever has subsided and even longer, if possible.
The Epstein-Barr virus may persist in your saliva for months after the infection. There's no vaccine to prevent mononucleosis.
Last Updated: 2010-06-26
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