Infectious mononucleosis is the technical and formal name of the disease commonly known as "mono". This disease is typically caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), but it can also be caused by other viruses such as cytomegalovirus. Once a person becomes infected, the symptoms may diminish and disappear after a few weeks. However, the virus will remain dormant in the patient’s system for the rest of his or her life, with occasional cases of reactivation. Despite that, a person is unlikely to experience any symptoms again.
Mono is also popularly dubbed as “the kissing disease”. The reason is that it is transmitted through contact with saliva. Hence, it can spread through kissing, but also through sharing cups, straws, utensils, or toothbrushes. Aside from saliva, it can also be spread through contact with throat and nose mucus, and tears. Like the common flu, the virus can be spread through sneezing and coughing. A study also suggests that mono can possibly be spread through sexual contact.
This disease is one of the most common diseases in the world. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 90 percent of the world's population will have contracted the Epstein-Barr virus at some point in their lives. But despite its reach, it hardly ever causes any real harm. Most people infected with mono will not even exhibit any symptoms.
The symptoms of mono usually begin after four to seven weeks, if they do at all. This is the incubation period of the virus. It is important to note, however, that even if a person does not yet show any signs of having mono, he or she is still a candidate for spreading the virus.
Common Symptoms of Mono
- Fatigue or weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Sore throat
- Sore muscles
- Swollen tonsils with white patches
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, groin, and underarms
- Skin rash
- Enlarged spleen or liver
- Abdominal pain
The symptoms of mono are very similar to those of the common flu. Some people may even be oblivious that they have mono, thinking that it is a regular flu. This should not be a major cause for concern since like the common flu, mono is easily treatable at home. Though mono symptoms can be bothersome and disruptive to your daily routine, they are seldom serious, dangerous, or life-threatening.
The symptoms of mono usually last anywhere between two weeks to four months or more. This varies largely because each person is different and each person’s physiology reacts differently to the virus. This may also change depending on which virus caused your infectious mononucleosis.
While mono symptoms are typical and are not cause for concern, there are complications that may result from these symptoms. This particularly pertains to the swelling of the liver or spleen. Getting hit in the belly near the spleen could cause the organ to rupture, which is dangerous and requires surgery. Mono can also bring about liver inflammation, characterized by jaundice or when your skin and eyeballs turn yellowish. This generally clears up along with the other symptoms of mono. But, to be on the safe side, consult your doctor.
In very rare cases, mono can also cause anemia, decreased platelet count, myocarditis, meningitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), Guillain-Barre syndrome (an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, causing muscle weakness), and breathing difficulties due to severely swollen tonsils.
It is important to remember that these are very rare cases. Generally, mono will take care of itself if you get plenty of rest and choose nutritious meals.
Mono Symptoms in Adults
The ways in which mono can affect people often depends on their age. People aged 15-24 seem to be more susceptible to mono. Researchers cannot pinpoint as to why this age group is particularly more affected by mono. However, one study suggests that it may be because this age group is more likely to engage in deep kissing, increasing their exposure to the virus.
This age group also displays more severe symptoms than others. They experience extreme fatigue, high fever, body aches, headache, sore throat, pink measles-like rash, enlarged spleen, and swollen glands in the neck and the underarms.
Most of these symptoms will diminish within one to two weeks. Some people can even return to their normal routine just after a week. It is usually the tiredness that drags on for longer periods of time, well beyond the duration of the other symptoms.
Past the age of 24, adults are unlikely to develop mono. At this point, most people will have developed the immunity and built up antibodies to withstand mono infections. They will rarely exhibit any symptoms or be affected by the disease at all. They will most likely just get the virus and have it remain dormant in their systems.
Because mono is such a common disease, people will have been infected with EBV before they grow older. Therefore, mono in adults over 40 is rare. In those rare cases, they are not likely to display the same symptoms and may not get sore throats or swollen glands. Instead, mono may have more of an effect on their liver. Older adults may develop liver inflammation with a high fever. They may also experience muscle aches. Because liver inflammation is an internal symptom, it is a little difficult to detect mono in older adults.
It should also be noted that mono is more dangerous for people who have weakened or suppressed immune systems. The reason is that they are not as equipped to protect their bodies from the invasion of the Epstein-Barr virus, and the infection may cause more havoc in their bodies compared to regular people. People with weakened immune systems are those with AIDS or cancer. People with suppressed immune systems are those who take medications after an organ transplant. For these groups, it is important to seek medical attention even for seemingly simple symptoms like fever. This ensures that they are given the right medication to help their bodies fight the disease. It also ensures that the infection does not cause fatal or irreversible harm to the person.
Mono Symptoms in Children
Studies suggest that young children get unintentionally infected by mono through their parents. It is during the times when the Epstein-Barr virus is reactivated in the parents’ systems.
For young children, mono symptoms are usually very mild and few. The symptoms are usually fever and sore throat. Most parents usually mistake these symptoms as indications of flu. Despite the misdiagnosis, this is usually harmless as the same home and over-the-counter remedies will work on mono as well. It should be noted, however, that giving aspirin to young children for viral infections should be avoided. This has been shown to lead to Reye's syndrome, which may eventually lead to liver failure, and could be fatal.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine yet available to prevent mono. But rest assured, most mono cases are not serious and your child will likely recover fully and easily from this type of infection.
On the other hand, there are simple habits you can teach your child so that he or she may avoid getting infections. These include:
- Frequent handwashing, especially before meals and after bathroom breaks.
- Coughing or sneezing into a sleeve, into the inside of the elbow, or onto a tissue or handkerchief and then washing hands afterward.
- Avoid sharing objects that make contact with the mouth.
Early Symptoms of Mono
One of the earliest symptoms of mono, similar to the common flu, is sore throat. The sore throat caused by mono is not easily cured despite taking medication. This may also come with a stuffy or runny nose and tonsillitis.
The patient can also have a fever that lasts more than a week. This could be accompanied by general weakness and fatigue, extreme drowsiness, as well as body pain or muscle stiffness. The fever may also induce chills. The patient may also experience persistent drowsiness, constant headache, and watery eyes.
Skin rashes are fairly common in the early stages of a mono infection. These rashes will appear pinkish in color.
Other Early Symptoms
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive sweating, particularly at night
- Bloated or sore abdomen, which are signs of an enlarged spleen
How long do mono symptoms last?
How long a person must deal with the symptoms of mono varies from two weeks to four months. There are also rare cases of mono where the symptoms last up to six months or longer. The latter, more severe infection is called chronic active EBV infection.
How long does it take for mono symptoms to show?
After the virus enters the system of a person, it usually takes four to seven weeks before the first symptoms can be observed.