When Ashley came home with a headache and body aches and pains, she
thought she had caught the flu. But by the next morning,
Ashley's temperature had soared to 103Âº F (39Âº C) and her
throat felt like she'd swallowed hot coals. Even worse, she was
so tired she could hardly lift her head off the pillow. Ashley had
never felt this bad with any cold or flu.
Ashley's mom took her to the doctor, where a physical
examination and a blood test revealed that Ashley had
What Is Mono?
Infectious mononucleosis (pronounced: mah-no-noo-klee-
-sus), sometimes called "mono" or "the kissing
disease," is an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr
virus (EBV). EBV is very common, and many people have been exposed
to the virus at some time in childhood.
Not everyone who is exposed to EBV develops the symptoms of
mono, though. As with many viruses, it is possible to be exposed to
and infected with EBV without becoming sick.
People who have been infected with EBV will carry the virus for
the rest of their lives - even if they never have any signs or
symptoms of mono. People who do show symptoms of having mono
probably will not get sick or have symptoms again.
Although EBV is the most common cause of mono, other viruses,
-rus), can cause a similar illness. Like EBV, cytomegalovirus stays
in the body for life and may not cause any symptoms.
People often kid around about mono, but as Ashley discovered,
it's no joke. A case of mono can keep you out of commission for
How Do People Get Mono?
One common way to "catch" mono is by kissing someone
who has been infected, which is how the illness got its
"kissing disease" nickname. If you have never been
infected with EBV, kissing someone who is infected can put you at
risk for getting the disease.
But what if you haven't kissed anyone? You can also get
mononucleosis through other types of direct contact with saliva
(spit) from someone infected with EBV, such as by sharing a straw,
a toothbrush, or an eating utensil.
Some people who have the virus in their bodies never have any
symptoms, but it is still possible for them to pass it to
others. Experts believe that EBV can even spread from people who
had the virus months before.
How Do I Know if I Have It?
Symptoms usually begin to appear 4 to 7 weeks after infection
with the virus. Signs that you may have mono include:
- constant fatigue
- sore throat
- loss of appetite
- swollen lymph nodes (commonly called glands, located in your
neck, underarms, and groin)
- sore muscles
- larger-than-normal liver or spleen
- skin rash
- abdominal pain
People who have mono may have different combinations of these
symptoms, and some may have symptoms so mild that they hardly
notice them. Others may have no symptoms at all.
Even if you have several of these symptoms, don't try to
diagnose yourself. Always consult your doctor if you have a fever,
sore throat, and swollen glands or are unusually tired for no
Because the symptoms of mono are so general and can be signs of
other illnesses, it's possible to mistake mononucleosis for the
flu, strep throat, or other diseases. In fact, occasionally some
people may have mono and strep throat at the same time.
When making a diagnosis, the doctor may want to take some blood
tests to see if mono is causing the symptoms. But even if the blood
tests indicate mono, there isn't much the doctor can do other
than advise a person to drink lots of fluids and get plenty of
How Can I Get Better?
There is no cure for mononucleosis. But the good news is that
even if you do nothing, the illness will go away by itself, usually
in 3 to 4 weeks. Because mono is caused by a virus, antibiotics
such as penicillin won't help unless you have an additional
infection like strep throat. In fact, certain antibiotics can even
cause a rash if you take them while you have mono.
Although there's no magic pill for mono, you can do some
things to feel better. The best treatment is to get plenty of rest,
especially during the beginning stages of the illness when your
symptoms are the worst. Put yourself to bed and pass on school,
sports, and other activities.
For the fever and aching muscles, try taking acetaminophen or
ibuprofen. Steer clear of aspirin unless your doctor tells you to
take it: Aspirin has been linked to a serious disease in kids and
teens called Reye syndrome, which can lead to liver failure and
If you have a sore throat, chew gum, drink tea with honey, or
suck on hard candy or ice pops. Even if you're not hungry, try
to eat a well-balanced diet and drink lots of water and juices to
prevent dehydration. You can get some nutrition and soothe your
throat with cold fruit smoothies or low-fat shakes.
When you start feeling better, take it slow. Although you can
return to school once your fever disappears, you may still feel
tired. Your body will tell you when it's time to rest - listen
to it. By taking good care of yourself and resting as much as you
need to, you will soon be back to normal, usually within a few
Doctors also recommend avoiding sports for at least a month
after the illness because the spleen (an organ in the body that
sits under the left rib cage) is often enlarged temporarily while
you are ill. An enlarged spleen can rupture easily, causing
internal bleeding and abdominal pain and requiring emergency
surgery. Do not participate in contact sports, cheerleading, or
even wrestling with your little siblings or your friends until your
doctor gives you permission.
As you recover, make sure you don't share the virus with
your friends and family. Chances are they will not get the disease
from casual contact with you, but you can take a few steps to help
them stay germ free. Wash your hands often, cover your nose and
mouth when you sneeze or cough, and keep your drinks and eating
utensils to yourself. This is one time when your friends and family
will thank you for being selfish.
Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: January 2007
Originally reviewed by:
Catherine L. Lamprecht, MD
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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