Mononucleosis (mono) is commonly called the kissing disease because that’s the way it usually spreads. In fact, the virus that causes mono is so widespread that nearly everyone carries it in their body, but not everyone gets sick.
Who’s most likely to come down with mono, how does the virus spread, and what symptoms will it cause? Here, our team at Laurel Pediatric & Teen Medical Center in Bel Air, Maryland, explains all parents need to know about mono.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s health, especially if they have fatigue, a fever, and swollen glands, call our office right away. We can quickly determine if we should see them in the office and recommend self-care tips you can use at home.
Mono begins with a virus
Though several viruses could be to blame, most cases of mono are caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV belongs to the herpesvirus family. Like its relatives, once EBV is in your body, it never leaves.
Most of the time, EBV stays dormant and doesn’t make you sick (mono). But some people get mono when they’re first exposed. The virus can also reactivate at any time, a problem that typically affects people with a weak immune system.
The most common age for mono
Mono seldom causes symptoms in young children. EBV is found in 95% of adults, but they rarely get mono. The people most at risk are 15-24-year-olds. About 1 in 4 teens and young adults who are exposed to EBV come down with mono.
How mono spreads
EBV primarily spreads through intimate person-to-person contact involving saliva. In other words, teens most often get it when kissing. It very rarely spreads between family members or roommates.
Though not as common as kissing, the virus may spread through coughing or sneezing and when sharing food, drinks, or eating utensils. Since the virus spreads through body fluids, it’s possible but unlikely to spread through sexual intercourse.
Symptoms caused by mono
Mono causes the following symptoms:
- Extreme fatigue
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes (in their neck and armpit)
- Swollen tonsils
- Loss of appetite
- Skin rash
- Sensitivity to light
- Upper left abdominal pain (if they have a swollen spleen)
Though the acute illness improves within a few weeks, fatigue and feeling like they’re not quite back to full health may continue for months.
Treatments for mono
Like all viral illnesses, you need to wait for the virus to run its course. In the meantime, we closely monitor your child’s health, watch for potential complications, and recommend treatments that ease their symptoms.
Mono treatment includes:
- Staying hydrated
- Getting plenty of rest
- Taking over-the-counter medications for fever and pain
- Consuming a healthy diet (essential nutrients promote healing)
- Treating secondary infections (like sinusitis or tonsillitis)
- Avoiding physical activities like sports
It’s important to keep your child or teen out of physical activities for at least several weeks or until we clear them to play. Physical activities put them in danger of rupturing a swollen spleen.
Deciding when your child can return to their normal routine and activities depends on their risk for injuring their spleen and any limitations caused by ongoing fatigue.
Possible mono complications
Even if your child’s fatigue lasts longer than expected, most recover without complications. And once they’re over the illness, they usually have a lifelong immunity that keeps the virus dormant.
Complications are rare, but parents should be aware of the two most common issues:
Upper airway obstruction
Your child’s tonsils or lymph glands can interfere with breathing if they get too large.
An enlarged (swollen) spleen is caused by an accumulation of blood. When this happens, the spleen’s structure makes it vulnerable to rupture from a blow to the body.
A ruptured spleen causes pain in the upper left abdomen and left chest or shoulder. Your child or teen may also feel dizzy, confused, and nauseous.
Call 911 immediately if you suspect a ruptured spleen. This is a medical emergency needing immediate attention.
If you have questions or need help with mono symptoms, call Laurel Pediatric & Teen Medical Center or request an appointment online today.