Infectious mononucleosis, commonly called "mono," is a disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV is one of the most common viruses worldwide. Most people are exposed to EBV as children, but the infection often goes unnoticed because they experience minimal symptoms. The majority of people have been exposed to EBV by the age of 35 and have developed immunity. However, when EBV infection occurs during late adolescence or early adulthood, there is a 35% to 50% chance of developing mono. For those that develop mono, the highest incidence occurs in people between the ages of 15 and 24.
EBV is transmitted through direct contact with virus-infected saliva. Intimate kissing or sharing drinking glasses are the most common routes of transmission. The majority of people with mono are most likely to transmit it just prior to feeling ill. Most people have been exposed to the EBV at some point in their life and so are not at risk of developing mono. Because of this, it is not recommended that people with mono isolate themselves from others. Roommates rarely get mono from each other. Avoiding contact with the saliva of an infected person for about 1 month after he/she becomes ill is recommended.
The symptoms of mono may include one or more of the following:
- Persistent "tired all over" feeling
- Sore throat and tonsils
- Swollen lymph glands
- Enlarged spleen and liver
- Occasionally, a skin rash or jaundice (yellow tint to the skin)
Mono is diagnosed based on the presence of fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph glands. Your medical provider will also request lab tests to confirm the diagnosis. The tests may include a throat culture and blood tests.
Because mono is a virus, there are no specific cures or treatments. To help relieve symptoms, you should get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids; take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Tylenol or Advil, as needed; and gargle with salt water to relieve a sore throat. Sometimes your provider can give you a stronger prescription pain reliever.
Since the virus can affect the liver, it is also recommended that you abstain from alcohol for 3 months after diagnosis. And because your spleen can become enlarged, it is very important to protect it from rupturing. Strenuous exercise, especially contact sports, must be avoided.
Recovery may be quicker than you think. Symptoms will ease within 10 days, but don't expect to return to your normal activities for 2 to 3 weeks. A few cases of mono are severe enough to interfere with academic work, but these are the exception, not the rule. If you continue to experience symptoms beyond 6 weeks, talk with your medical provider.
Our resource area contains brochures, articles, bulletin board packets, books, videos, and handouts on a wide variety of health related topics. If we don't have it, we will help you find it!