Mononucleosis, commonly known as “mono” or
“the kissing disease,” refers to a group of symptoms usually caused by the
Epstein Barr virus (EBV). This infection is infamous for the length of time it
It is estimated that 90 to 95 percent of all
adults have antibodies to EBV in their blood because the virus is so common.
This means almost every adult has had an EBV infection. However, this does not
mean that everyone has had mononucleosis.
Many people develop EBV infections as
children after age 1. In very young children, symptoms are usually nonexistent
or so mild that they are not recognized as mono. Once you have an EBV
infection, you are not likely to get another one. Any child who gets EBV will
probably be immune to mono for the rest of their life.
However, there are plenty of children in the
United States and other developed countries who do not get these infections in
their early years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, mono occurs 25
percent of the time when an adolescent or young
adult is infected with EBV. For this reason, mono affects mainly high school
and college students.
Fortunately, most cases of mono are mild and
resolve easily with minimal treatment.
Can I Catch Mononucleosis?
Infectious mono is spread by saliva
transmission. You can become infected by kissing or sharing food, dishes, or
eating utensils with someone who has mono. It usually takes four to eight weeks
for symptoms to develop after you are infected.
The best way to prevent mono is to avoid
coming into contact with other people’s saliva. If you are infected, take
precautions to avoid infecting anyone else.
Groups for Mononucleosis
The following groups have a higher risk for
- young people between the ages of
15 and 25
- people on immune-suppressing
Anyone who regularly comes into close contact
with large numbers of people is at an increased risk for mono. This is why high
school and college students frequently become infected.
Symptoms Associated with Mononucleosis
The following are the most common symptoms of
- sore throat that gets worse
- swollen glands (lymph nodes) in
the neck, underarms, and groin
- severe fatigue
Additional mono symptoms include:
- white patches (pus) on tonsils
- tender and enlarged spleen (an
organ in the upper left side of your abdomen)
- loss of appetite
- sore muscles
- night sweats
Mono is hard to distinguish from other common
viruses such as the flu. If your symptoms do not improve after one or two weeks
of home treatment such as resting, getting enough fluids, and eating healthy
foods, see your doctor.
Is Mononucleosis Diagnosed?
Because other, more serious viruses such as
hepatitis A can cause symptoms similar to mono, your doctor will work to rule
out these possibilities.
Once you visit the doctor, they will normally
ask how long you have had symptoms. If you are between age 15 and 25, your
doctor might also ask if you have been in contact with any individuals who have
mono. Age is one of the main factors for diagnosing mono along with the most
common symptoms: fever, sore throat, and swollen glands.
Your doctor will take your temperature, and
check the glands in your neck, armpits, and groin. Your doctor might also check
the upper left part of your stomach to determine if your spleen is enlarged.
The Monospot Test
Lab tests are the second part of a doctor’s
diagnosis. One of the most reliable ways to diagnose mononucleosis is the
monospot test (or heterophile test). This blood test looks for antibodies —these
are proteins your immune system produces in response to harmful elements.
However, it does not look for EBV antibodies. Instead, the monospot test
determines your levels of another group of antibodies your body is likely to
produce when you are infected with EBV. These are called heterophile antibodies.
The results of this test are the most
consistent when it is done between two and four weeks after symptoms of mono
appear. At this point, you would have sufficient amounts of heterophile
antibodies to trigger a reliable positive response.
This test is not always accurate, but it is
easy to do, and results are usually available within one hour or less.
EBV Antibody Test
If your monospot test comes back negative,
your doctor might order an EBV antibody test. This blood test looks for
EBV-specific antibodies. This test can detect mono as early as the first week
you have symptoms, but it takes longer to get the results.
Complete Blood Count
Sometimes your doctor will request a complete
blood count (CBC). This blood test will help your doctor determine how severe
your illness is by looking at your levels of various blood cells. For example,
a high white blood cell count often indicates mono.
Are the Treatment Options for Mono?
Treatment for mononucleosis is very basic. It involves addressing
For the most part, this entails at-home treatment including:
- getting a lot of rest
- drinking a lot of fluids (water
- gargling with warm salt water for
- eating warm chicken soup
- using over-the-counter pain
- taking prescription
corticosteroids to help reduce throat and tonsil swelling
Nothing can cure mono. In fact, you can
continue to test positive for the virus for the rest of your life after
symptoms resolve. Some people even continue to spread the virus off and on
during their lives.
If your symptoms get worse or you experience
intense abdominal pain, contact your physician. One of the complications of
mono is a ruptured spleen, which is a life-threatening situation. A ruptured
spleen will usually occur between four and 21 days after you begin to have
symptoms. If your spleen ruptures, you will need emergency surgery to remove
Long Does It Take to Recover from Mono?
Mononucleosis can be a debilitating disease.
The majority of people who have mononucleosis recover within two to four weeks,
and can return to regular activities in two weeks. However, a study reported in
the “Physician’s Desk Reference” found
that a group of high school and college students took more than two months to
recover after being diagnosed with mono.
The good news is that once you have gotten
mono, you usually do not have to worry about becoming sick with it again.
During your recovery, make sure to avoid contact sports or any
other strenuous activity.