Mononucleosis is a common infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.
It can cause extreme fatigue, sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and body aches.
It usually affects teens and young adults; however, any age group can get it.
Mono is rarely serious, but extreme fatigue can interfere with normal activities, and the infection can cause serious complications in limited cases.
Read on to learn more about mono and its symptoms, testing, and treatment.
We will also go over how it is transmitted and when it is time to see a doctor or healthcare provider.
What Is Mono?
Infectious mononucleosis, also called mono or “the kissing disease,” is an infection from a virus.
Several viruses can cause a mono infection, but the Epstein-Barr virus is the most common cause.
The most susceptible age groups are teens and college students.
At least one in four teens or college students exposed to Epstein-Barr will develop mono.
Young children and older adults exposed to this virus often just get a mild cold or flu-like illness.
Once you have had mono, the virus never leaves your body.
It stays dormant in your throat and blood cells, but it does not cause ongoing symptoms most of the time.
After you recover from the infection, you will typically never get the active infection again.
If you are exposed to mono, symptoms take an average of three to six weeks to appear.
They usually last from a week to a few months, although a person may occasionally have symptoms for six months or longer.
The most common symptoms include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Swollen lymph glands in your neck, armpits, and groin
- Sore throat
- Head and body aches
Less common symptoms include:
- Swollen spleen
- Swollen liver
The symptoms of mono are similar to other medical conditions, so it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider for the diagnosis.
If you think you have mono, your healthcare provider will want to go over your symptoms and perform a physical exam.
Your provider may also want to have some blood drawn for lab testing.
There is a rapid test for mono called a monospot or heterophile antibody test.
Your white blood cell count can also help make this diagnosis, and your provider may want to order some lab work to rule out other infections, like strep throat.
The mono test can be falsely negative within the first week of symptoms, so your provider may recommend a repeat test in one week.
There is no specific medication or vaccine for mono.
Treatment focuses on helping you feel better while your immune system fights the virus, including:
- Letting your body get plenty of rest
- Drinking fluids to stay hydrated
- Taking over-the-counter medication (e.g., Tylenol or Ibuprofen) to control your pain and fever
Because your spleen may swell while you have mono, avoid contact sports or any activity where you may fall or hit your stomach until you recover.
Avoid taking antibiotics while you have mono, as these will not help and can cause a rash.
Can You Get Mono Without Kissing?
The viruses that cause mono are very contagious.
Most Americans by the age of 40 have the virus, whether or not they have had symptoms of mono.
Mono has the nickname “the kissing disease” because it can be transmitted by saliva.
However, kissing is not the only way mono and the viruses that cause it are spread.
Other ways of contracting mono without kissing
The mono virus is transferred through bodily fluids.
Sharing food, drinks, and utensils, close direct contact, or sexual contact can all spread the virus.
Avoiding the virus is difficult because of how widespread it is, but many people never get symptoms of mono even when they are exposed.
Practice good hygiene and do not share food, drinks, or utensils with others. If anyone is showing signs of being sick, keep your distance.
Wash your hands and avoid touching your mouth and face to help you stay healthy.
When to See a Medical Provider
Be sure to call your doctor right away if you experience:
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Extreme weakness in your arms or legs
- Severe headache
- Sharp or severe pain in your abdomen
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Epstein-Barr Virus and Infectious Mononucleosis: About Infectious Mononucleosis. (2020.)
Epstein-Barr Virus and Infection Mononucleosis: Laboratory Testing. (2020.)
Epstein-Barr virus: general factors, virus-related diseases and measurement of viral load after transplant. (2011.)
Infectious Mononucleosis. (2016.)