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What Do You Know About Mono?

Often called "mono" for short, mononucleosis is an infection by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), one of the herpes viruses. It is spread through body secretions, usually saliva. That's why it sometimes is called the "kissing disease."

By the time they reach adulthood, most people have been infected by EBV but don't know it. Young children who become infected frequently have no obvious illness. People ages 15 to 35 are more likely to develop symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms can take four to seven weeks to develop and may last for a few weeks, or in some cases, a month or longer. Classic symptoms of mononucleosis are similar to those of many other infections: fever, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpit and groin, and fatigue. Less common symptoms include nausea, a rash that doesn't itch, sore or stiff muscles, headache and loss of appetite. EBV infections may cause an enlarged liver and spleen.

Diagnosis and treatment

Blood tests can confirm mono. It's a viral infection, however, so antibiotics won't cure it. Antiviral medications are also ineffective, and one of them, ampicillin, may make it worse by causing a rash. The best treatment is usually three weeks of rest and limited activity. You should avoid strenuous exercise and contact sports until your doctor says your spleen has returned to normal size; returning to activities too soon could rupture your spleen.

Drink fluids to stay hydrated. Gargle with salt water to ease your sore throat. Take a pain reliever for headache, muscle pain and fever. Don't use aspirin for anyone younger than age 19; it's been linked with Reye's syndrome, a rare but sometimes fatal condition.