Mononucleosis

  • Basics

    Mononucleosis, also known as the "kissing disease," or simply "mono," is a group of symptoms that occur in some individuals who become infected with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is so widespread that 90% to 95% of all adults everywhere have signs of it in their blood. Infants become susceptible to EBV when they are no longer protected by their mother's immune system, usually after the first year of life. Fortunately, young children don't show symptoms when they are infected. Additionally, getting EBV infection at an early age confers lifetime immunity against future infections.

    Teens and young adults ages 15 to 25 who escaped EBV infection during early childhood are at high risk of developing symptoms if they become infected with EBV. Mono is rare, but not totally unheard of in middle age.

    Almost all cases of mono resolve within a month. Most teens and young adults get well within two to three weeks with treatment no more complicated than drinking plenty of fluids and getting adequate bed rest. The older the infected person, the more severe the symptoms tend to be.

    Consult a health practitioner such as a family practitioner, pediatrician, or internist if symptoms become severe, or if they persist for more than four weeks.

  • Causes

    Infectious mono is spread through the exchange of saliva. That can occur when people share eating utensils or enjoy a passionate kiss (hence the name, "the kissing disease"). Viruses other than EBV can cause similar, mono-like illnesses. These illnesses have many of the same symptoms, but appear less frequently than mono caused by EBV. For simplicity, most authorities lump both the EBV and non-EBV mono illnesses under the term, "infectious mononucleosis." Regardless of the infecting virus, most cases are mild and resolve uneventfully.

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