By Rima Himelstein
One of my patients drove home from college to see me because she was "just not feeling well." About a month earlier she had a sore throat, which got better, and then came back again. And she needed to sleep a lot− 16 hours a day and she was still exhausted! When I examined her, I found her to have swollen glands behind her neck. Her "Monospot," a test used to diagnose infectious mononucleosis, was positive.
Infectious mononucleosis, unaffectionately known as "mono," is a contagious illness that causes sore throat and other symptoms. A person of almost any age can get mono but it is more common and often more severe in high-school and college-age people. About 85% of mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and the other 15% by other viruses such as cytomegalovirus (CMV).
Mono is spread through contact with saliva from a person with the infection. That's why many people have heard it called the "kissing disease." But it can also be spread when a person with mono sneezes or shares food, drinks or utensils. One of my patients said that half her dorm had mono—turns out they all shared the same sponges to wash their dishes!
Headache, sore throat, and fever − a.k.a. feeling just plain awful. It takes four to six weeks for symptoms to appear after contact with infected saliva.
Diagnosing mono is usually as simple as a blood test. If your child has these symptoms, ask for a mono test: a Monospot is a blood test for antibodies made by the immune system when the body is fighting mono. Sometimes the Monospot is negative but mono is still suspected; other tests can be done to detect EBV infection.
Doctor's orders: rest and then rest some more...
With mono, patients need patience. Teens usually start feeling like themselves again in a few weeks, but in some it can take months, or longer. Here's what is usually recommended: