Infectious mononucleosis (mono) is often referred to as the kissing disease. The virus that causes mono is transmitted through saliva, so you can get it via kissing, but you can also be exposed through a cough or sneeze, or by sharing a glass or food utensils with someone who has mono. However, mononucleosis is not as contagious as some infections, such as the common cold.
You’re most likely to get mononucleosis with all the signs and symptoms if you’re an adolescent or young adult. Young children usually have few signs, and the infection often goes unrecognized.
If you have mononucleosis, it’s vital to be careful of certain complications such as an enlarged spleen. Rest and adequate fluids are key to recovery.
Signs and symptoms of mononucleosis may be inclusives:
- Sore throat, perhaps a strep throat that doesn’t get better with antibiotic use
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck and armpits
- Swollen tonsils
- Skin rash
- Soft, swollen spleen
The virus has an incubation period of approximately four to six weeks, although in young children this period may be shorter. Signs and symptoms such as a fever and sore throat usually lessen within a couple of weeks, but fatigue, enlarged lymph nodes and a swollen spleen may last for a few weeks longer
If you’ve been experiencing the above signs, you may have mononucleosis.
If rest and a healthy diet don’t reduce your symptoms within a week or two or if your symptoms recur, see your doctor.
The most regular cause of mononucleosis is the Epstein-Barr virus, but other viruses can also cause this disease.
Mononucleosis usually is not very serious. Most adults have been exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus and have built up antibodies. They’re immune and won’t get mononucleosis again.
Complications of mononucleosis may be more serious than the disease itself.
Enlargement of the spleen
Mononucleosis can cause enlargement of the spleen. In extreme cases, your spleen may rupture, causing sharp, sudden pain in the left side of your upper abdomen. If such pain happens, seek medical attention immediately — you may need surgery.
Problems with your liver also may happen:
- You may notice mild liver inflammation (hepatitis).
- A yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes (jaundice) also happens occasionally.
Less common complications
Mononucleosis can also lead to the following less common complications:
- Anemia— a decrease in red blood cells and in hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein in red blood cells
- Thrombocytopenia— low count of platelets, which are blood cells involved in clotting
- Heart problems— an inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis)
- Complications involving the nervous system— meningitis, encephalitis and Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Swollen tonsils— which can block breathing
The Epstein-Barr virus can cause much more serious illness in people who have impaired immune systems, such as people with HIV/AIDS or people taking drugs to suppress immunity after an organ transplant.
Mononucleosis is spread through saliva. If you are infected, you can help prevent spreading the virus to others by not kissing them and by not sharing food, dishes, glasses and utensils until several days after your fever has subsided and even longer, if possible.
The Epstein-Barr virus may persist in your saliva for months after the infection. No vaccine exists to stop mononucleosis.