Infectious mononucleosis (also known as mono) is caused by Epstein Barr Virus (EBV). This infection is most common in childhood and adolescence.
In the United States, more than 90 percent of adults have been infected or exposed and have made antibodies to the virus. This virus is spread by oral secretions, or saliva. A common mode of transmission is saliva which is why it has been known as the kissing disease. This virus can also be transmitted by sharing beverages or eating utensils.
Common signs and symptoms of mono are:
- Sore throat
- Overall fatigue
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Tonsils may be enlarged with white exudates.
- Abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting may also occur.
This infection can mimic Strep throat or acute HIV infection among other illnesses so it is important to see your physician for adequate diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes it is difficult to identify the exact time of transmission because the incubation period is about four to six weeks. This means that someone may be infected and carrying the virus before experiencing any symptoms. Most patients have signs and symptoms for two to four weeks but some unfortunately may have fatigue for longer time periods.
Your physician will be able to diagnosis mono with a blood test that checks for EBV antibodies. Other routine labs may also be helpful in ascertaining the diagnosis. The mainstay of treatment for this infection is rest.
- Patients are encouraged to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and take over the counter pain medications as advised by a doctor.
- Warm salt water gargles may help relieve the discomfort of sore throat.
- Patients are also advised to abstain from contact sports (i.e. football, hockey, wrestling) for the first few weeks of illness.
This is because while most cases of mono resolve naturally with no consequences using supportive care, there are some uncommon complications of this virus, including hepatitis (liver inflammation) and encephalitis (brain inflammation).. Mono can cause the spleen to become inflamed and enlarged. Contact sports are advised against because of the risk for the spleen to rupture which can be life threatening.
Currently there is no vaccine for Mono but trials are underway. Although it is difficult to prevent transmission from those without any signs or symptoms, patients with known infection can take some of the following measures:
- Avoid kissing or sharing food, beverages, eating utensils, or drinking glasses until signs and symptoms have completely resolved. Frequent hand washing and proper hygiene will also help prevent transmission.
Molisha Patel, PA
ID Care is based in Hillsborough.