Mononucleosis (mono) is a viral infection.
The symptoms of mono may include:
Mononucleosis is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). This virus is transmitted in infected saliva through coughing, sneezing, and kissing. Although mononucleosis can occur at any age, it occurs more often in 15- to 25-year-olds, possibly because of more intimate contacts with others. Contrary to popular belief, mono is not very contagious. Even people in the same household rarely come down with it. After the virus enters the body it can take 4 to 7 weeks before symptoms begin.
Most children have only mild symptoms for a week. Even those with severe symptoms usually feel completely well in 2 to 4 weeks.
Complications are rare and may require hospitalization when they occur. The most common complication is dehydration from not drinking enough fluids. Breathing may be obstructed by enlarged tonsils, adenoids, and other lymph tissue in the back of the throat. On rare occasions, the enlarged spleen will rupture if the abdomen is hit or strained. Because over 90% of youngsters with mononucleosis will develop a severe rash if they take ampicillin or amoxicillin, these medicines should be avoided in this condition.
No medicine will cure mononucleosis. Antibiotics are not helpful because it is caused by a virus. However, symptoms can usually be helped with medicines. The pain of swollen lymph nodes and fever over 102°F (39°C) can usually be relieved by appropriate doses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Do not give aspirin.
To prevent dehydration, be sure your child drinks enough fluids. Milk shakes and cold drinks are especially good. Your child is getting enough fluid if his mouth is moist and has saliva in it, he urinates at least 3 times each day, and the urine is not darker than usual
Because swollen tonsils can make some foods hard to swallow, provide a soft diet as long as necessary. Children over age 6 can suck on hard candy (butterscotch seems to be a soothing flavor.) Avoid citrus fruits. Give your child a daily multiple vitamin until his appetite returns to normal. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be very helpful for pain relief. Do not give aspirin.
Your child does not need to stay in bed. Bed rest will not shorten the course of the illness or reduce symptoms. Your child can select how much rest he or she needs. Usually children voluntarily slow down until they no longer have a fever. Children can return to school when the fever is gone and they can swallow normally. Most children will want to be back to full activity in 2 to 4 weeks.
Your child's spleen may be enlarged while he or she has mononucleosis. A blow to the abdomen could rupture the enlarged spleen and cause serious bleeding. This is a surgical emergency. Therefore, all children with mononucleosis should avoid contact sports and all strenuous activity for at least 4 weeks. Athletes especially must restrict their activity until the spleen returns to normal size (as determined by a physical exam).
Constipation should be treated and heavy lifting should be avoided because of the sudden pressures they can put on the spleen.
Your healthcare provider may check your child weekly until the spleen size returns to normal.
Infectious mononucleosis is most contagious while your child has a fever. After the fever is gone, the virus is still carried in the saliva for up to 6 months, but in small amounts. Overall, mononucleosis is only slightly contagious from contacts. Boyfriends, girlfriends, roommates, and relatives rarely get it. The person with mononucleosis does not need to be isolated. However, he or she should use separate drinking glasses and utensils and avoid kissing until the fever has been gone for several days.
The incubation period for mononucleosis is 4 to 7 weeks after contact with an infected person. This means that if a person does become infected with the virus, the symptoms will not appear until up to 4 to 7 weeks after the contact.
The symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are fatigue, tiredness, weakness, recurrent pains, and the need for more sleep. The symptoms are present for at least 6 months.
Years ago, researchers suspected that chronic fatigue syndrome was linked to having had mono. But that connection has never been proven.
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