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The kissing disease: you'd know exactly what that meant even if you hadn't read the title of this article. Mononucleosis, or mono, is a common disease that usually occurs during the teen and young adult years. Most people are exposed to the virus that causes mono at some point in their lives, and many carry this virus without even knowing that they have it. Despite being ubiquitous, however, mono is subject to a great deal of confusing misinformation.
Mononucleosis is an infectious disease typically caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus, also known as human herpesvirus 4 (HHV-4). And although that name conjures up distressing images of sexually transmitted diseases, there's no reason to be afraid -- EBV is one of the most common viruses in all humankind.
That's not hyperbole. Here are the facts about mono and EBV:
As a disease, mono does not spread easily, due to growing in the nose and throat and depending on infected fluids to transmit. Its long incubation period and permanency, however, makes its spread almost inevitable:
That last fact suggests a pattern: any place where younger people are made to cohabitate, like college dorms or military barracks, is susceptible to outbreaks of mono.
Mono is marked by a number of symptoms that are frustrating and uncomfortable, but mostly minor:
In addition, rashes can occur, especially in patients prescribed with the antibiotics ampicillin or amoxicillin.
The most potentially concerning mono symptom is enlargement of the spleen, which may be indicated by pain in the upper left abdomen. Nearly 50% of mono patients suffer from an enlarged spleen, which may see their spleen swell to 2-3 times average size. Be careful if this happens! An enlarged spleen is vulnerable to rupture, which can be deadly. Mono patients are highly discouraged from playing sports for 3-4 weeks during and after the infection.
The symptoms listed above will aid a diagnosis of mono, as well as the presence of mono patients in your life, but the easiest way to confirm it and to rule out other illnesses or complications is a blood test. These tests may include:
This is easier said than done, considering the prevalence of EBV. If you're a nervous parent or young person, you probably don't have anything to worry about. Due to the high rate of immunity, mono patients aren't quarantined. But if there's an outbreak in your school and you're worried, here are some things to avoid:
If you have mono, you may want to wear a protective face mask to help prevent spreading the disease to others.
This is easier than avoiding mono, because in the absence of complications, you're just going to let the virus run its course. This will usually take a few weeks, although fatigue may occur for months afterward. Here are some tips to help you deal with the main period of illness: