Mononucleosis, also referred to as ‘mono’, is a contagious viral disease that affects teenagers and young adults. Let’s check out its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Mononucleosis is more popularly known as the ‘kissing disease’. Though maximum cases are found in the age group of 15 – 35, it can also affect small children. The symptoms in children are mild and may often go unnoticed. The disease usually does not affect adults, as their immune system is well-developed and strong enough to fight against the virus.
Causes and Symptoms
The virus that causes mononucleosis is the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). This virus is present in the saliva and mucus, and can be transferred from one person to another, by kissing. Hence, the name ‘kissing disease’. The virus can also spread through the use of utensils of the infected person or getting in close contact. It is a misconception that the EBV infects only teenagers. In adults, the body produces antibodies that destroy the EBV, and thus, few cases of this infection are seen in adults. In teenagers, these antibodies are not produced in enough quantities, and hence, most patients are teenagers. The age group that is mostly affected is 15 – 17 years.
It is not that every person exposed to the EBV will develop mononucleosis. People may remain carriers of the virus lifelong, without showing any symptoms. Even if no symptoms are observed, these people can spread the infection to others. The period between exposure to the virus and occurrence of the symptoms is called the incubation period. This period is generally seen to be from four to six weeks. The initial symptoms include fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, and headache. When the infection progresses, a combination of the symptoms given here may be observed.
- Enlarged spleen
- Physical discomfort
- Severe sore throat
- Glands in neck and armpits get swollen
In almost all the cases of mononucleosis, a specific treatment is not required. However, the patient has to take good care to relieve the symptoms caused. A severe sore throat is the most common symptom that leads the patient to approach a doctor. It is difficult to diagnose mononucleosis, as its symptoms are similar to normal viral fever. A complete blood count, blood test, and monospot tests are some methods that can help in proper diagnosis. The monospot test checks whether antibodies for EBV have been produced in the blood. This test may not help during the initial period of the illness. Increased WBC count indicates a possibility of mononucleosis, though this may be a symptom of some other disease as well.
Regular antibiotics do not prove useful in destroying EBV, and may give rise to further complications. Thus, patients are not prescribed antibiotics as medication. Antibiotics are recommended only if the condition is accompanied by a throat infection, like strep throat. Here are some helpful tips.
- A gargle of salt water at regular intervals helps reduce the pain due to a sore throat.
- Medications like ibuprofen are recommended for fever and headache.
- Bed rest and adequate sleep help the patient to recover soon.
- If the spleen is enlarged, contact sports should be avoided, as this may lead to its rupture.
- To prevent dehydration, the patient should drink fluids like milk shakes, juices, and plenty of water.
The recovery period may range from a few weeks to months. Penicillin and erythromycin are considered to be the best treatment for sore throat. The patients should avoid medications like ampicillin and amoxicillin, because in 90% cases of mononucleosis, these medications lead to rashes. Medication of cortisone is given for patients having severe throat pain that causes difficulty in breathing. If the enlarged spleen ruptures, it may lead to severe complications like bleeding. Major complications can be avoided if proper care is taken during the initial period of the illness.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.