Recognizing the signs of mononucleosis

Mononucleosis is a contagious infection that is sometimes difficult to recognize. Learn more about it, so you can uncover it when the time comes.

What is this misleading infection?

Mononucleosis, commonly called "mono", is a contagious infection caused by a virus (Epstein-Barr), which affects especially children, adolescents, and young adults. It is sometimes referred to as the "kissing disease", because the virus responsible for the infection is present in saliva. It isn't uncommon for young children to contract the virus without developing the infection. Adolescents and young adults are generally more vulnerable to it.

A simple kiss, drinking out of the same glass as or sharing utensils with an infected individual are various ways in which mononucleosis can spread. Although it is not considered to be a serious infection from a medical perspective, the fact remains that it can greatly affect individuals who have it, sometimes causing them to be bedridden or forcing them to restrict their activities.

What are the signs and symptoms of mononucleosis?

It is often difficult to diagnose mononucleosis, as its manifestations are similar to those of several other infections and diseases. It can sometimes cause some worry before a diagnosis is reached, confirming that it is, in fact, mononucleosis.

It can take between four to eight weeks after exposure to the virus before the disease manifests itself. The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • extreme fatigue
  • fever and shivering
  • sore throat (sometimes quite severe)
  • lumps in the neck due to swollen glands

Other possible symptoms:

  • feeling of general malaise
  • headaches
  • muscle pain

The presence of one or several signs and symptoms may be observed.

How do I know if I have mononucleosis?

If you think you may have mono, the doctor will undoubtedly have you pass a medical examination. During the examination, he/she will probably palpate your abdomen to check if your spleen is enlarged. This occurs in about 50% of patients with mono. If your spleen is enlarged, your doctor will recommend that you refrain from doing intense activities for a few weeks, to avoid a rare but serious complication—a ruptured spleen.

A diagnosis for mononucleosis can be made using a blood test. However, a false test result can sometimes occur (false negative), if the test is done in the first weeks of the infection.

How can mononucleosis be treated?

Because it is a viral infection, there is no drug that can eliminate it. Antibiotics are ineffective in this context. We must let the illness run its course and give body's natural defences a chance to fight the virus. In the meantime, it is possible to relieve certain symptoms such as fever, sore throat, and muscle pain.

The use of analgesics (for pain), anti-inflammatory drugs (for inflammation), and antipyretics (for fever) can help in many cases. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are good examples. Remember to always speak to a pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medication. Prescription medication may sometimes be necessary, but this is quite rare.

What measures can be helpful?

Sometimes, individuals recover after a few weeks, but the duration of recovery can largely vary from one individual to another. Mono usually heals without consequences. Certain measures can help by improving comfort and speeding up recovery. Here are a few:

  • Rest! It is a well-known fact that rest is the key to recovery from mononucleosis.
  • Refrain from going to school or work during the period recommended by your doctor. Additionally, avoid intense physical activity for at least a month. Follow your doctor's instructions regarding this aspect as well.
  • Drink plenty of liquids, ideally water.
  • Try to maintain a healthy and balanced diet during your illness. Your may lose your appetite, but remember that you should keep up your strength.
  • Remember that because mono is contagious, you must take the necessary preventive measures to avoid contaminating others.

Don't hesitate to speak to your pharmacist if you have any questions concerning mononucleosis or the medication used when you are affected by it.

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Recognizing the signs of mononucleosis

Mononucleosis is a contagious infection that is sometimes difficult to recognize. Learn more about it, so you can uncover it when the time comes.
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