Infectious mononucleosis, also known as mononucleosis, "mono," or glandular fever, is characterized by swollen lymph nodes and fatigue.
Infectious mononucleosis is caused by either the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or cytomegalovirus, both of which are members of the herpes virus family. Consider the following statistics:
Most adults in the US have been exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus, which is a very common virus. When children are infected with the virus, they usually do not experience any noticeable symptoms. However, uninfected adolescents and young adults who come in contact with the virus may develop infectious mononucleosis in nearly 50 percent of exposures.
Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a virus in the herpesvirus family that often causes cells to enlarge. Most healthy persons who become infected with CMV after birth have few, if any, symptoms and have no long-term effects on their health.
The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) may cause infectious mononucleosis in adolescents and young adults. However, even after the symptoms of infectious mononucleosis have disappeared, the EBV will remain dormant in the throat and blood cells during that person's lifetime. The virus can reactivate periodically, however, usually without symptoms.
Mononucleosis usually lasts for one to two months. The following are the most common symptoms of mononucleosis. However, each adolescent may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin
- Constant fatigue
- Sore throat due to tonsillitis, which often makes swallowing difficult
- Enlarged spleen
- Liver involvement
This may include mild liver damage that can cause temporary jaundice, a yellow discoloration of the skin and eye whites due to abnormally high levels of bilirubin (bile pigmentation) in the bloodstream.
Once a person has had mononucleosis, the virus remains dormant for the rest of that person's life. Once a person has been exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus, a person is usually not at risk for developing mononucleosis again.
The symptoms of mononucleosis may resemble other medical conditions. Always consult your adolescent's physician for a diagnosis.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination of your adolescent, a diagnosis of mononucleosis is usually based on reported symptoms. However, diagnosis can be confirmed with specific blood tests and other laboratory tests, including:
- White blood cell count
- Antibody test
How Infectious Mononucleosis is Spread
Mononucleosis is often spread through contact with infected saliva from the mouth. Symptoms can take between four to six weeks to appear and usually do not last beyond four months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Transmission is impossible to prevent, according to the CDC, because even symptom-free people can carry the virus in their saliva.
Alleviating symptoms of mononucleosis may include the following:
- Rest for about one month (to give the body's immune system time to destroy the virus)
- Corticosteroids (to reduce swelling of the throat and tonsils)