What is mono (mononucleosis)?
Mono, short for mononucleosis, is an infectious disease most commonly caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It is frequently spread through saliva, which is why it’s often called the “kissing disease.” However, kissing isn’t the only way you can catch the virus. It can be spread by sharing food, drink or utensils, through coughing or sneezing, from the spread of mucus from the nose or throat, through contact with blood or semen, or sometimes even through tears.
Mononucleosis Diagnosis and Treatment
Mononucleosis is usually a mild illness, but some cases include more severe symptoms or serious complications. Fortunately, if you are experiencing mono symptoms, diagnosis is typically quick, and there are things you can do to manage the symptoms and help prevent the spread of the illness.
What are the symptoms of mono?
The most common signs of mono are high fever, a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and tonsils, weakness and fatigue. Mononucleosis symptoms usually start 4 to 6 weeks after you are exposed to the virus.
While the symptoms of mono are usually not severe, serious complications can occur, especially in those with compromised immune systems. One potential complication is the swelling and enlargement of the spleen. Pain in the upper left area of the abdomen may indicate that the spleen has ruptured. If this happens, seek medical attention immediately, as emergency surgery may be needed.
Other complications can affect the liver, resulting in conditions like hepatitis or jaundice. The heart and nervous system may also be affected, and anemia may develop. A rash of many tiny red spots can occur, which could indicate a low platelet count or another serious condition. Medical attention should be sought if any of these symptoms arise.
How is mono diagnosed?
During the appointment, the physician will conduct a full physical exam and ask about the patient’s medical history. If symptoms are consistent with mononucleosis, a quick test can be conducted to check for evidence of the virus. The results are typically ready in under 10 minutes. Mononucleosis can only be detected by this test if you’ve had the virus for at least 7 days, but symptoms rarely develop that quickly. If the patient has had mono before, the virus will likely cause a “false positive” result, even if the virus is inactive and not causing symptoms. In these instances, a blood test may be done to determine a current infection.
Because other illnesses can present similar symptoms, the physician may order additional testing. This may include a test for the flu, strep throat, or other illnesses depending on symptoms and medical history.
How is mono treated?
Mono itself does not have a medical cure. The medical team will assist the patient with strategies to lessen symptoms and speed resolution. A mononucleosis treatment plan will include plenty of rest. For most people, symptoms dissipate in 2-4 weeks. Some symptoms, like fatigue, can take longer to resolve. As the symptoms improve, the patient can gradually return to normal activities.
Medications are sometimes used to help manage the symptoms of the illness. It is often advised to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to alleviate fever, sore throat, or other discomfort. A steroid called prednisone may be prescribed if there is trouble breathing or eating due to a severely sore throat.
Because of the risk for a ruptured spleen in people with active mono, patients should avoid contact sports until the physician advises you that it’s safe to resume those activities.
How long is mono contagious?
Even after symptoms resolve, the virus that causes mononucleosis remains in the body for life. The virus remains inactive and no longer causes symptoms, but is still able to spread to others, who can get sick. Medical researchers aren’t sure how long mono stays contagious, but some studies show that it can still be transmitted up to 18 months after symptoms have disappeared.
It’s difficult to prevent the spread of mononucleosis, but the chance of catching it or passing it on can be reduced by avoiding sharing food, drinks or cutlery with others.
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