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Med School Refresher: Infectious Mononucleosis

1. Symptoms of Infectious Mononucleosis

Infectious mononucleosis, commonly known as "mono" or "the kissing disease", is a viral illness typically caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Here are the common symptoms:

  1. Fatigue: Persistent, severe tiredness is a key symptom of mono.
  2. Sore throat: Often mistaken for strep throat, this can be severe and lasts longer than a typical sore throat.
  3. Fever: A high fever is common with mono.
  4. Swollen lymph nodes: Especially in the neck and armpits.
  5. Headache: This is a common symptom.
  6. Skin rash: A mild, measles-like rash can occur and is more likely if you take certain types of medicine, such as ampicillin or amoxicillin.
  7. Soft, swollen spleen: In some cases, the spleen (an organ on the left side of the abdomen) may become swollen and can occasionally rupture.
  8. Night sweats.

Symptoms usually appear four to six weeks after you get infected with the virus.

2. Biological Explanation of Infectious Mononucleosis

Infectious mononucleosis is most commonly caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, a member of the herpesvirus family. It's spread through bodily fluids, usually saliva, which is why it's often referred to as the "kissing disease." It can also be spread through blood and semen during sexual contact, organ transplants, or blood transfusions.

Once you're infected, the virus stays in your body for the rest of your life, but it's usually dormant or inactive. Only a small number of people may have a reactivation of symptoms.

3. Managing Infectious Mononucleosis Symptoms

There's no specific therapy available to treat infectious mononucleosis. In most cases, the virus must simply run its course. However, there are steps you can take to ease symptoms:

  1. Rest and hydration: Get plenty of sleep and drink lots of fluids to help your body fight the infection.
  2. Over-the-counter medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers can help with a fever and sore throat. Avoid aspirin in children and teenagers, as it's been associated with a rare, life-threatening condition called Reye's syndrome.
  3. Avoid contact sports and heavy lifting: These activities can lead to a spleen rupture, which is a medical emergency. Your healthcare provider can advise you on when it's safe to resume these activities.
  4. Healthy diet: Eating healthy can boost your immune system and help you recover faster.

Remember to seek medical attention if your symptoms are severe or if they're not improving after a couple of weeks. In some cases, complications such as an enlarged spleen, liver issues, or less commonly, heart problems can occur.

This handout provides an overview of infectious mononucleosis and how to manage it. Always consult with a healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis, treatment, and support for your condition.

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Cherry Health

Canada's Medical Network

About the Author

Cherry Health

Canada's Medical Network

About the Author

Cherry Health

Canada's Medical Network

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