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Love is in the air this time of year, so it seems appropriate to talk about the kissing disease, mononucleosis. Mono is transmitted through saliva, so you can get it from smooching your valentine, but also from sharing a glass or fork with someone who is infected. Though mono most commonly affects teenagers, it can occur later in life. Contrary to popular belief, mononucleosis symptoms can recur months or even years after the initial infection.
Mono’s symptoms can vary from person to person, often depending on factors such as the age at which the infection occurs. Some of the most common symptoms include fever, unexplained fatigue, swollen glands, sore throat, and muscle aches. Symptoms can range in severity, and in some cases are so mild that you can be infected and not notice. The most common cause of mono is the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can be present for over a month before causing visible symptoms.
Because the symptoms of mononucleosis are rather similar to more severe infections like hepatitis A, you should schedule an examination to rule out anything potentially dangerous. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and how long they’ve been appearing, as well as whether you have had any known contact with anyone who has mono. A complete blood count can also be administered to detect irregular blood cell levels, which can indicate the presence of the virus.
Following the incubation period, which is usually between four and six weeks, mono symptoms typically last between one and four weeks, but can linger for as much as two months before you have recovered enough to get back to your regular routine.
Unfortunately, mono does not respond to antibiotics or other drugs, and there is no medication that can treat the virus itself. Treatment mostly involves addressing the individual symptoms. It’s important to get plenty of rest and drink enough fluids. Discomfort from fever and muscle aches can be alleviated with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen. For sore throat relief, you can use throat lozenges or gargle saltwater. The spleen is more vulnerable to ruptures during a mononucleosis infection, and people with the virus should avoid heavy lifting or high-impact exercises for at least four to six weeks after symptoms appear.
Mono typically does not require medical attention, but if you have a very painful sore throat that makes it difficult to breathe or swallow, it may indicate a secondary infection. Sometimes people with mononucleosis also develop strep throat, which can be treated with antibiotics. If your symptoms continue after six weeks, it often means that you have developed a secondary infection. If you feel sudden and extreme pain in your left side, you should seek emergency medical attention immediately. This may indicate a ruptured spleen, an extremely rare complication caused by the virus. Other potential complications include anemia, inflammation of the heart or liver, or meningitis.
It can be difficult to predict exactly the way the mono virus will behave from one person to the next. Sometimes mononucleosis can be contagious when the virus is first contracted, before you have begun to exhibit any recognizable symptoms. Mononucleosis is certainly contagious during the period in which symptoms occur, and for an unknown period afterward which may be up to three months. The virus remains in the body for life but mostly remains dormant, although it can resurface later with some risk of spreading the infection.
Because mono can be difficult to identify, and because it often remains contagious long after symptoms have subsided, it can be very difficult to prevent the virus from spreading. Try not to be in close contact with anyone who you know has mononucleosis and avoid kissing or sharing glasses, chapstick, or utensils. Regularly washing your hands also helps with reducing your risk of catching the virus. If you already have mono, you should make sure to stay at home and get enough rest until you stop experiencing symptoms.
Mononucleosis is not typically a dangerous illness, but if you are experiencing long-term symptoms like sore throat, fatigue, or swollen lymph nodes, you should meet with a doctor to make sure that you are minimizing your risk of spreading the virus or developing a secondary infection. Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment to get checked out!
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