Diseases & Conditions


MononucleosisCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis is due to a virus that infects the body. It is also known as Mono or the Kissing Disease. The illness is prevalent is younger people ages 15 to 17 but it can develop in any age group.

Causes of Mono

Symptoms of mononucleosis are caused by viruses. The Epstein-Barr or EBV virus is the cause of almost 90% of all mononucleosis cases. It is a member of the herpes family of viruses. The second type of virus that causes 10% of all mono cases is cytomegalovirus and this is also from the family of herpes viruses.

Medications for Mononucleosis

Common drugs used to treat the symptoms of the kissing disease include NSAIDS such as acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol, and ibuprofen found in many different over the counter drugs. These are used to combat the fever and muscle aches. A sore throat can be treated with chloroseptic spray, lozenges or a salt water gargle. For severe cases of mono, Acyclovir and Valacyclovir can be used as it inhibits the growth of the herpes virus in the body. Corticosteroids such as Prednisone are used to reduce pharyngeal discomfort, inflamed tonsils, and odynophagia. Research is currently being done on a new viral inhibitor called protease dimer.

Prevention of the Kissing Disease

Upwards of 90-95% of adults carry the Epstein-Barr virus so it is virtually impossible to avoid exposure. It is important to wash all surfaces that come in contact with saliva. Maintain sanitary standards by frequently washing hands. Try to decrease kissing or multiple kissing partners. Do not share drinks or food with others. Finally avoid individuals who are showing symptoms of mono.

Risk Factors for Mononucleosis

Young individuals especially teenagers and those in college are more prone to catching mono. Those who have multiple sexual partners are also at greater risk for catching the kissing disease. Individuals who live in military barracks or dorms are also at risk. Those who share utensils, drinks and food have a greater chance of catching mono. Finally individuals who are in close contact with an infected individual are also prone to catching the disease.

Symptoms of the Kissing Disease

Symptoms of this disease mimic the cold or flu. Nevertheless when all occur at once it is a strong indication of the presence of mononucleosis. These symptoms include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes usually in the neck.
  • High fever.
  • Almost constant fatigue.
  • Decrease in appetite.
  • Aching or stiff muscles.
  • A red rash.
  • A sore throat.

While not as common, additional symptom include headache, chest pain, hives, coughing, and irregular or rapid heartbeat, jaundice, light sensitivity, breathlessness and a swollen spleen. There are even rarer symptoms and these decrease in the level of blood platelets, rupture of the spleen, pericarditis, pneumonitis and obstruction of the airway.

Mononucleosis usually goes away in 2-4 weeks. At least 95% of patients recover completely without any residual health issues. If the spleen ruptures it will do so during the second or third week when patients begin to improve and increase their activity level. Obstruction of the airway occurs rarely and when it does, it happens in younger children. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia occurs in only 1-3% of infected individuals. It is treated with corticosteroids. Thrombocytopenia is seen in up to 50% of individuals with mono.

However, it is not dangerous and usually clears up itself. Hepatitis can occur in up to 80-90% of infected individuals but is quite mild and heals itself. Some neurologic conditions that can manifest themselves include Bell's palsy, meningitis, tranverse myelitis, Guillain-Barre syndrom and cranial nerve palsies. These are treated with corticosteroids.

Treatment of Mononucleosis

As long as the patient is not immune compromised it is not typical to use antiviral medicines. Many individuals infected by mono recover without intervention in approximately 4 to 6 weeks. However there are some medications that can be used to help treat the symptoms like fever and muscle aches.

Types of Mono

Viral mononucleosis is the result of infiltration of Epstein-Barr virus into the body. It spreads through saliva from person to person which is why it is also called the kissing disease. Another type of mononucleosis is the result of a herpes virus called cytomegalovirus or CMV being introduced to the body.