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Mononucleosis - commonly known as mono - is a viral illness caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Mono is called “the kissing disease” because it is easily transmittable through saliva or bodily fluids, and may also be transmitted through sharing eating utensils or drinking out of the same glass as someone who is infected with the disease.
- Body aches
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Skin rash
- Swollen spleen
The fever and sore throat symptoms that commonly occur with mono will usually go away within a week, but the fatigue and swollen lymph nodes may last for several weeks to a month. The EBV virus will remain in the body after the illness has ended, but it is very rare for mononucleosis to recur. Many people will be infected by the EBV virus but will show no symptoms; in fact, only 1 in 4 teenagers or young adults who are exposed to the EBV virus will show symptoms. Nearly 90% of Americans will have been exposed to the virus by the age of 35 and will have built up the antibodies to fight off any re-emergence of the illness.
Mono is a very common illness and contagious. While most instances of the illness are mild and go away over time, untreated mononucleosis can lead to complications.
- Spleen enlargement and spleen rupture
- Liver inflammation
- Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart)
The EBV virus can cause very serious medical conditions for individuals with weakened immune systems. Because of this, and the contagiousness of the illness, it is recommended that you speak to a health care provider as soon as you notice symptoms. Avoid social contact with others until you have received a diagnosis. If it is confirmed that you do have mono, avoid public spaces (such as work and school) until your symptoms have disappeared.
Below are common treatment options used to reduce the symptoms of mono. During your appointment, talk to your provider about the treatment plan that’s right for you.
Because mono is a viral infection, antibiotic medication will not treat the condition. Antibiotics may actually worsen symptoms and cause a skin rash. If secondary illnesses occur (such as a strep infection or sinus infection) your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the accompanying illness.
Most instances of mono are treated with self-care strategies such as:
- Maintain hydration: Drinking plenty of water and fluids can help reduce fever and sore throat symptoms.
- Rest: One of the most common symptoms of mono is extreme fatigue, Be sure to get plenty of rest by practicing healthy sleep habits and avoiding physical exertion (such as exercise and sports).
- Take an OTC pain reliever: Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce fever and aching symptoms caused by mono.
- Gargle salt water: Gargling warm salt water several times a day can help reduce sore throat symptoms.
Mono is very contagious and can lead to an enlarged spleen. Exercise and physical activity can put added pressure on the swollen spleen, increasing the risk of a rupture, which can lead to life-threatening internal bleeding. Avoid social contact and physical activity until you have approval from your doctor that it is safe to resume regular activities.