HEALTH: Medical Note: Mononucleosis

Finals and homework may not be the only thing making students feel tired this time of year. As temperatures fall, students spend more time indoors and around other people, increasing the risk of catching illnesses.

Mononucleosis is one such illness. Mononucleosis, commonly known as “mono” (and sometimes called the “kissing disease”), is derived from the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). It was given its more colloquial name after being associated with being transferred through kissing.

Mononucleosis can be passed through any exchange of infected saliva, kissing included. But some more common causes that don’t involve the activities of love-struck individuals include sharing eating utensils, toothbrushes, and drinking glasses.

The virus is also passed through nose and throat mucus, as well as tears. And, while rare, mononucleosis can be spread through transfusion, so those with the virus should not donate blood.

While symptoms vary and can be more severe in people with weakened immune systems, the most common symptoms of the virus include sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes, a loss of appetite, and especially fatigue.

Although many people will be infected with EBV by the time they reach adulthood, not everyone will have displayed symptoms of mononucleosis. Young adults ages 15–24 are most likely to show symptoms, while children will most likely not exhibit symptoms of EBV exposure.

Symptoms typically cease after two to three weeks of being visible, but it can take someone who had mononucleosis a couple of months to fully regain his or her normal energy level. And he or she is still capable of spreading the virus to others, even when symptoms have stopped. This is because the virus can remain in a person’s throat permanently, and sometimes become active again.

Diagnosis is important because mononucleosis is often mistaken for strep throat and treated with antibiotics.

The downside to this treatment is that antibiotics can ultimately make a person develop a rash if he or she is being incorrectly treated.
Many of the treatments for mononucleosis are things that people can do themselves.

Doctors recommend taking common painkillers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, to take care of a sore throat, fever, and headaches.
In contrast, aspirin should not be taken while a person has mononocleosis because doctors have linked it with a disease known as Reye’s Syndrome, which attacks the brain and liver and can potentially lead to death.

But the most important treatment for mononucleosis is rest. A person recovering from the illness should not participate in contact sports or any form of heavy lifting for at least three weeks after initial diagnosis, or until a physician says it is safe.