What causes it?
Most cases of mono are caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV was discovered in the 1960s and named after the two scientists who identified it. It is a member of the herpes family of viruses and extremely widely spread. Health Scout claims that as many as 95% of Americans aged 35 to 40 could be infected.
Sometimes, mono can be caused by other viruses, such as cytomegalovirus or rubella, according to the NHS. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that can cause symptoms that are similar to glandular fever.
Mono is very infectious, so it is easy to contract it by doing the following with someone who is infected:
- Sharing cups or cutlery
- Sharing toothbrushes
It is said that adolescents and young adults are most at risk of contracting the illness that any other age group, with the incidence rate peaking at 15-17 years, according to Medicine Net. Young children may also contract mono, but symptoms tend to be less severe and often mimic other childhood illnesses, which may explain why it is less commonly diagnosed.
What are the symptoms?
Initial symptoms of mono include:
- A lack of energy and malaise
- Loss of appetite
These then progress into more severe symptoms, including:
- Fever, with a temperature of, or above, 37.5°C (99.5°F)
- Severe sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the neck or armpit
- Swollen tonsils
- Swollen spleen
- Skin rash
The sore throat and fever should subside within two weeks but the swollen lymph nodes and tiredness could linger for several months.
Occasionally, mono can affect the liver, leading to jaundice (the yellowing of skin and eyes) and mild inflammation. These usually pass when the illness does.
How is it treated?
At present, there is no cure for mono, but there are a number of self-help techniques that can help to control and improve symptoms. The NHS outlines these:
- Getting lots of rest in the first month of the illness. This should help to speed up recovery
- Drinking lots of water and avoiding alcohol due to the liver’s heightened sensitivity
- Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help relieve pain and fever
- Gargling with salt water can help relieve a sore throat
- Antibiotics are not effective in treating mono as it is a virus, but can help if a secondary bacterial infection develops in the throat
What complications could there be?
Mono sometimes causes the spleen to swell up, which is not an immediate danger, but does increase the risk of it being ruptured. The chances of this happening are very small but if it does, the sufferer will experience a sharp abdominal pain and is advised to seek emergency medical assistance immediately.
In a very small number of cases, the initial infection spreads to other parts of the body, leading to a more serious secondary infection, which may include:
- Pneumonia (affecting the lungs)
- Meningitis (affecting the brain and spinal cord)
- Inflammation of the heart
Secondary infection usually only happens to those who have a weakened immune system caused by HIV/AIDS or chemotherapy, for example.
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