Mononucleosis, also known as mono, is a viral infection that causes a sore throat, fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph glands, especially in the neck. This disease is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV); however, other organisms such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) may also be responsible for the onset of this disease. These viruses are transmitted through saliva, and therefore many people contract it through kissing. However, a person may also be exposed to it through a cough or sneeze, or by sharing utensils with an infected person. Fortunately, mononucleosis is less contagious than infections such as common cold.
Young infected children experience only a few mild symptoms, and therefore the disease is not often recognized in them. This illness is observed mostly in young adults and teenagers since they do not have immunity to the virus like the older adults.
The early symptoms include a general feeling of sickness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, and muscle ache. The most bothersome effect of the illness is a sore throat, which gets worse progressively. Sometimes, fever may also occur. In most patients, the tonsils become swollen and may develop a whitish-yellow covering. Another sign of the disease is that the lymph nodes in the neck become inflamed and painful. In about 50% of the patients, the spleen becomes enlarged.
Rarely experienced symptoms of the illness include chest pain, cough, hives, jaundice, neck stiffness, nosebleed, rapid heart rate, and sensitivity to light. Sometimes, if the medicines such as ampicillin or amoxicillin are administered, a pink, measles-like rash may occur. However, these medicines must only be prescribed after a positive strep test.
A doctor may be able to diagnose the disease once you inform him about the symptoms. Swollen tonsils with a whitish-yellow covering may be seen, and swollen lymph nodes in the front and back of the neck may be detected during a physical examination. The doctor may also feel a swollen liver or swollen spleen when pushing on the belly. A blood test may reveal higher-than-normal white blood cell (WBC) count and unusual looking WBCs called atypical lymphocytes.
The best course of treatment is to alleviate the symptoms. Steroids (prednisone) and antivirals (such as acyclovir) usually have little or no benefit. Therefore, one must drink plenty of fluids and gargle with warm salt water to treat a sore throat. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be taken for relief from pain and fever. The patient must take ample amount of rest to recover quickly. Also, one must refrain from indulging in any type of sports while the spleen is still swollen, to prevent it from rupture.
In most cases, the fever will go away in 10 days time. However, the swollen lymph glands as well as the spleen may take up to 4 weeks to heal. In some cases, fatigue is experienced for 2 to 3 months following the illness.
An infected person may develop some complications. The illness, at times, may result in a mild inflammation of the liver (hepatitis), sometimes along with jaundice. Fortunately, this form of hepatitis is rarely serious. As the spleen gets enlarged, it may get ruptured if proper care is not taken. Orchitis, or inflammation of the testicles, may also occur. Other rare neurological complications include Guillain-Barre syndrome, meningitis, seizures, temporary facial paralysis (Bell's palsy), or uncoordinated movements (ataxia).
Rare and severe complications include inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis), the heart muscle itself (myocarditis), and the brain (encephalitis), and the destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia). Mono may cause significant damage in patients with compromised immune systems.
Most people mistake mono for a typical viral illness. However, self diagnosis is not wise, and therefore it always advisable to consult a health care provider.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.