Mononucleosis And The Epstein-Barr Virus

Information about the infectious disease mononucleosis. How it's contracted, what the effects are, and how it's treated.

Mononucleosis, or more commonly known as just "mono", is an infectious disease. It is transmitted through saliva; therefore, you can get it through kissing someone (mono is also called "the kissing disease"), sharing a glass with someone, or even getting coughed on. Babies can get mono from sharing toys (if one baby chews on a toy, and then the other baby puts that toy in its mouth). Ninety (90) percent of mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV is a virus that almost all humans get at one point in their life, and then it stays with them forever. Some say that the earlier you get EBV the better because once you get EBV your body starts producing antibodies against the virus, therefore, it helps protect your body from mono.

In the 1880's German doctors described mono as "glandular fever" because your glands and lymph nodes swell up. But then in 1920 Thomas P. Sprunt and Frank A. Evans invented the term "infectious mononucleosis".


Mononucleosis includes many symptoms. The most common are fatigue (often severe), headache, loss of appetite, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, underarm and groin, fever, and enlarged spleen and/or liver. Some of the less common symptoms are sensitivity to light, puffiness of the eyelids, and a rash (similar to measles).

Many of these symptoms can throw doctors into thinking that they are different sicknesses. For example, the sore throat can be mistaken for strep throat, the cough can be mistaken for diphtheria, and the rash you can possibly get with mono is similar to that of measles.

There is no medicine to "cure" mono. You can take some over-the-counter medicine to help a sore throat or headache, but mostly doctors just advise mono patients to rest, drink lots of fluids, and avoid strenuous activity. Doctors suggest avoiding sport activities and/or exercise of any kind because moving around too much puts you at risk of rupturing your spleen.

Diagnosing Mononucleosis

Mono is usually hard to diagnose because so many people think that it is a different illness other than mono. Once the patient goes to the doctor, the doctor will examine the patient's throat, feel the lymph nodes in the neck area, take the patient's temperature, and feel the stomach area to see if the liver or spleen is inflamed. Then, if the doctor suspects it is mono they will take a blood test.

The first blood test is called the Monospot test. It is done in the doctor's office with results in less than five minutes. Also, the other blood test, called complete blood count (CBC), might be used. It measures the number of red and white blood cells. Having fifty (50) percent or more lymphocytes (white blood cells) is an indication of mononucleosis.

Who gets Mono?

Only humans and some primates can get infectious mononucleosis. Anyone from babies to the elderly can get mono, but mostly teens and young adults get it. Most people get it before or during collage. About seventy/(70) to eighty/(80) percent of all cases of mono occur in people between fifteen/(15) through thirty/(30).

How long does is last?

Usually infectious mononucleosis can keep a person in bed anywhere from one (1) week to three (3) weeks, or as long as a couple of months. Once infected, the person will be immune to further disease. Second attacks of mono are extremely rare.

Complications and After Effects

One major complication during mono is the enlargement of the spleen and/or liver. About fifty/(50) through seventy-five/(75) percent of people with mono have some spleen enlargement. Once the spleen is enlarged, it becomes susceptible to being bruised or even ruptured easily. One blow to the stomach can be very dangerous with an enlarged spleen. This is why doctors advise to stay away from playing sports or exercise for a couple months.

More severe complications include: encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), hemolytic anemia (a massive destruction of red blood cells), or blockage of the respiratory air passage. Keep in mind that these complications and after effects are very rare.

How to Prevent Mono

There is no way to prevent mononucleosis. Keeping the immune system healthy is the best way to prevent the disease (or any disease for that matter). Eating well, reducing stress, and getting lots of exercise and plenty of rest is a good start to keeping the immune system healthy.

Some doctors say getting the Epstein-Barr virus at an early age is actually good because the body has a better chance of producing enough antibodies before the body is susceptible to mono. If you get EBV at a later age your immune system is not yet strong enough to fight off mononucleosis. Some doctors are against this theory though because in some young children EBV can cause some life-threatening complications.

Is Mono Contagious?

Yes. But it must be transmitted from person to person. You can't get it just from being in the same room with a person who does have mono; it must be transmitted through saliva.

Why is it so dangerous for people with AIDS to get Mono?

The AIDS virus damages the immune systems defenses making it hard for the person to fight off diseases. If a person with AIDS gets the Epstein-Barr virus or mono it could cause some kinds of cancer or other serious complications. This is also the same for people with weak immune systems.

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