Sharing food risk of mono

Get the Facts on Mononucleosis

Feb 28, 2024 Urgent Care Share:

Commonly known as “the kissing disease”, mononucleosis is a virus that can impact individuals of all ages - and you don’t have to kiss someone to get it.

Our guide to mononucleosis is designed to help you understand what it is (and what it isn’t), how to prevent it, and what to do if you think you might have been infected.

What is mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis, often called “mono,” is an infection that is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Mononucleosis earned its nickname, “the kissing disease,” because it spreads through saliva, like when sharing drinks or kissing. Mono can also be spread through shared utensils, toothbrushes, and through coughs and sneezes.

Mononucleosis most commonly affects teenagers and young adults due to their social behaviors and environments. This age group is more likely to engage in activities that promote the spread of the Epstein-Barr virus. Additionally, many teens and young adults live in close quarters, such as dormitories or shared housing, which can increase the likelihood of transmission. While anyone can get infected with mono, young children usually have very mild symptoms.

Symptoms of mononucleosis include:

  • Fatigue that presents as a significant and prolonged sense of tiredness that isn't relieved with rest
  • A sore throat that can range from mild to severe
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck and armpits, which may feel tender to the touch
  • Swollen tonsils which can have a whitish coating
  • Mild to severe headache
  • Soft, swollen spleen

Mononucleosis symptoms typically last from 2 to 4 weeks. However, some symptoms, like fatigue and weakness, can linger for several weeks or even months after the initial phase of the illness. Some individuals who experience severe fatigue may need a few months to return to their normal level of energy and activity.

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which causes mononucleosis, is a common herpesvirus that infects most people at some point in their lives without serious illness. However, once an individual is infected with the Epstein-Barr virus, it remains in the body for life, usually dormant. Epstein-Barr has been associated with other illnesses, including certain cancers, autoimmune diseases, and other conditions.

Treatment and Testing for Mononucleosis

If you suspect that you have mononucleosis, you should plan to visit an urgent care doctor for testing. Mono symptoms can resemble those of other illnesses, including strep throat, influenza, and other conditions that might require different treatments.

When you visit an urgent care clinic with symptoms of mononucleosis, your provider will review your symptoms, their duration, and determine if you’ve had a potential exposure to mono. Your provider will also conduct a physical examination and will check for signs like a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, and an enlarged spleen or liver.

Your provider will likely order a Monospot test, which is a rapid blood test that can detect the antibodies produced in response to an EBV infection. Positive responses are typically recorded during the second or third week of illness. Although results are often available within the same day, it may not detect the infection during the first week of symptoms.

Other EBV Antibody tests are available, but results can take longer. Your provider may also other tests, including a rapid strep test or a flu test, to rule out other illnesses with similar symptoms.

Based on the test results, your provider will make recommendations for symptom management which may include rest, hydration, and over-the-counter pain relievers. You may also need to abstain from sports or physical activities to avoid the risk of spleen rupture. Because mononucleosis is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not an effective form of treatment.

Myths about Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis is often misunderstood and subject to more than a few myths. Let’s address some of the most common myths about mononucleosis:

Myth #1: You can only get mono from kissing

While you can get mono from kissing, you can also get mono from other activities that involve shared saliva. You can also get mono from sharing drinks, utensils, or toothbrushes. Although less common, you can also get mono from respiratory droplets.

Myth #2: Only teenagers and young adults get mono

You can get mononucleosis at any age, but young children who are infected rarely have noticeable symptoms. Teens and young adults are, however, more likely to be diagnosed with mono than adults because of their social habits and activities.

Myth #3: Mononucleosis is highly contagious

While mono is contagious, it’s not considered highly contagious compared to other viral infections. It isn’t spread as easily as some other infections like the common cold or flu. But when an individual has an active infection and is in an environment where close contact and sharing of items is more common, the risk of spreading mono can be higher.

Myth #4: If you don’t have a sore throat, it can’t be mono

While a sore throat is one of the most common symptoms of mononucleosis, you can still have mono without a sore throat. The presentation of the illness can vary significantly from person to person. Some individuals may have mild symptoms or may even be asymptomatic, especially in younger children. Because symptoms are so variable, it’s very difficult to diagnose mono based solely on clinical presentation. Mono can only be confirmed through specific blood tests.

Preventing Mononucleosis

To prevent mononucleosis, you need to minimize exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus. But because EBV is so widespread, it’s difficult to prevent entirely. Some strategies that can help reduce the risk of transmission include:

  • Avoid sharing personal items. Because mono is spread through saliva, avoid sharing food, drinks, utensils, toothbrushes, or even lip balm or lipstick with others. This can also help prevent other infectious viruses.
  • Be cautious about intimate contact. Mono earned the nickname, “the kissing disease,” for a good reason. Be cautious about intimate contact, especially with someone who has active symptoms of mono or has recently recovered.
  • Understand your risk. If you have a weakened immune system or are taking immunosuppressive medications, you may be at higher risk for more severe symptoms of mono. These individuals should be extra cautious of exposure.
  • Care for your immune system. You can’t prevent mono altogether, but you can support your immune system to help manage symptoms and your recovery if you are infected. Adequate sleep, a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and stress management can all help you care for your immune system.

If you think you might have mononucleosis, don’t try to manage the illness on your own. Visit an urgent care clinic near you to get quick, compassionate care. Providers at MedHelp urgent care clinics in Birmingham are here for you seven days a week with extended hours on weekdays.

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