Causes and Treatment of Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis or “mono” are the names of the viral illness, which is more often caused by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). This virus affects different cells, mostly the immune system ones, and stays in the body for the individual’s lifetime. EBV can be found all around the world, and the majority of adults are infected by it. These people also carry the antibodies to this virus developed by their immune system. The symptoms of mononucleosis include a sore throat and fever, and that is where the disease derives its other name – “glandular fever.”

Transmission and Symptoms of Mononucleosis

Symptoms of Mononucleosis

The EBV infection can be spread through the bodily fluids like saliva. It can be transmitted by kissing, sharing glasses or utensils, sneezing, coughing, and any close contact. Because of this type of transmission, it is also called a “kissing disease.” Any person that is infected by EBV can transmit the disease in the periods of time when the virus is active, though the carrier may not experience any mononucleosis symptoms in those times. The incubation period of this disease may last for up to several weeks.

For many people, mononucleosis will feel like a mild cold or not be noticeable at all. However, some people, usually adults, may develop severe symptoms, which include:

  • fever;
  • sore throat;
  • swollen tonsils;
  • white patches in the throat;
  • symmetrically swollen and hard lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groin;
  • headache, lack of energy, fatigue, chills, loss of appetite;
  • liver and spleen enlargement.

Infants usually don’t get sick with mononucleosis, because they carry mother’s immune protection. In young children, mono is usually mild and can be confused with other respiratory diseases or go unnoticed. However, there may be exceptions and some children may experience the symptoms. Whether the symptoms occur or not, the body develops the immunity to the EBV after it is infected with the virus.

The peak of the symptoms occurs in the age group of 15-24-year-olds. These people suffer from severe mononucleosis more often than younger children or older adults. Most of the older adults have already been infected with EBV and have the immunity to the virus.

Mononucleosis Diagnostics and Treatment

To make a diagnosis of mononucleosis, the doctor will use the physical exam, blood testing, and a throat culture test. The medical history of the patients may also be examined. The doctor has to make sure the patient has mono and not the treatable infections, such as strep throat, or other diseases.

Most of the time mononucleosis should be treated at home. There are no medications that can make the recovery quicker, and antiviral drugs don’t help in this case. The patients have to:

  • stay in bed and rest;
  • avoid physical exercises;
  • drink lots of fluids.

Over the period of 2 weeks, the main symptoms will gradually go away. Although, the lymph nodes may stay swollen up to 4 weeks, and the fatigue may last for several months.

To reduce the symptoms of mono, you may use:

  • acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and pain;
  • soothing gargles or throat lozenges to treat sore throat.

Corticosteroids may be used in order to fight severe swelling of the tonsils and throat that causes difficulty breathing. Using steroids also helps the swollen spleen and reduces the majority of other symptoms of mononucleosis.

Possible Complications of Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis is a disease that is cured with home treatment. However, there are possible complications, which, should they occur, require medical help:

  • Streptococcal infection. In some cases, the streptococcal (strep) infections may accompany EBV in the throat. When such complications occur, the treatment with antibiotics is required. However, penicillin derivatives, such as ampicillin and amoxicillin, are not recommended in this case, because they often cause a measles-like rash in patients with mononucleosis.
  • Spleen rupture. While suffering from mono and during several weeks after recovery the patient should avoid weights lifting and contact sports. During the disease, the spleen may enlarge, and a blow to the abdomen or muscle pressure may cause serious complication in the form of spleen rupture. In this case, the emergency surgery is required. (view more information here)
  • Liver issues. Some people experience liver inflammation (hepatitis) and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).

Less common complications include anemia, thrombocytopenia, heart problems, meningitis, encephalitis, and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

You should call for immediate medical help if:

  • you experience severe pain in the upper left part of the abdomen;
  • your tonsils has swollen so much that it is difficult to breath;
  • you experience severe weakness.

Mononucleosis may be aggressive in patients with weak immune system, those who have HIV, AIDS or take immune suppressants. For most people, mononucleosis is not a dangerous disease, and they will recover from it in several weeks.

Article by Canadian Health&Care Mall Team: