Infectious mononucleosis, known as mono, is a viral syndrome that is often overlooked because the symptoms are similar to other common illnesses.
Mono is most typically common in adolescents and young adults, but the virus that causes mono is seen in other age groups also. Epstein Barr Virus causes the illness we think of as infectious mononucleosis, while other viruses may cause illnesses with a similar presentation. Those include cytomegalovirus, HIV and some herpes viruses.
When a person has mono, they often notice a sore throat, low grade fever, fatigue and swollen, tender areas in the neck caused from lymph node swelling as the body fights the infection. Rash and abdominal pain are also common.
When small children get mono, their symptoms are often quite different and easy to miss. They may have high fever and an all-over body rash, or no symptoms at all.
Mono is spread from person to person by the virus, which is present in saliva. That's why mono has earned the moniker of "the kissing disease." It also can be spread by drinking after an infected person or using an object recently touched by an infected individual who didn't wash his or her hands thoroughly. Children in daycare centers may transmit mono through sharing toys.
If you go to your health care provider with a sore throat and fever, he or she will listen to the history of your illness, do a thorough physical exam and consider possible diagnoses and treatments. Mono sometimes occurs as coinfection with strep throat, so a patient may be diagnosed with strep and later diagnosed with mono if the symptoms linger after antibiotic treatment.
There are tests for mono, but testing too early produces false negative results. The most accurate results are achieved at about one week of illness so your health care provider may want to wait to test for mono.
Treatment includes getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated and avoiding contact sports until cleared by your health care provider. It is common for the virus to cause an enlarged spleen, which could rupture if the person is hit in the abdomen. If throat soreness and swelling make it difficult to drink, steroids may be prescribed so that drinking will be easier.
Typically after an episode of mono, the patient will not be reinfected with the same virus that caused the initial problem, but there are rare individuals who do experience chronic symptoms.