What is Glandular Fever (Epstein-Barr Virus) or Infectious Mononucleosis (Mono)?

Mono (Glandular fever) causes tiredness, muscle aches, a sore throat and swollen glands. It’s also called infectious mononucleosis, or mono. Anyone can get Mono but it’s particularly common in young adults. The condition can make you feel quite miserable but most people make a full recovery after a couple of weeks.

Mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (which is a type of herpes virus). It’s highly contagious and passed on from person to person by close contact. For this reason, it’s also sometimes called ‘the kissing disease’. You can catch mono by sharing food or utensils with someone with the condition. And it can take up to seven weeks for symptoms to appear after you’ve been exposed to the virus.

The good news is during the infection your immune system makes antibodies to give you life-long immunity. That means you’re very unlikely to catch Mono twice. Mono doesn’t always cause symptoms. Almost all adults over 25 will have been infected by the Epstein-Barr virus but most won’t know they’ve had it.

Mono will usually get better by itself but see your physician if your symptoms don’t improve after a couple of weeks. As the symptoms of Mono are very similar to lots of other illnesses, a blood test is usually needed to confirm you have it. Seek medical advice right away if you experience sudden abdominal pain (especially on your left side), yellowing of the skin or eyes, or difficulty breathing.

Mono (Glandular Fever) Symptoms

  • Tiredness
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes (glands in the neck, armpits, and groin)
  • Headache
  • Rash on the chest
  • Swollen spleen

Mono (glandular fever) often feels similar to the flu. As well as tiredness, muscle aches, and fever, you may experience a sore throat or swollen glands in your neck and armpits. You may develop a rash on your chest.

It can be difficult to distinguish the sore throat of mono from strep throat (a bacterial infection). If the diagnosis is unclear, the doctor can order a throat culture or rapid strep swab, so that strep can be promptly treated with appropriate antibiotics.

Around half of all people with Mono will experience a swollen spleen. This may cause pressure or pain in the upper left side of your abdomen (near the stomach). You may feel full even if you haven’t eaten a large meal, and it can also cause shoulder pain when you take a deep breath.

A swollen spleen doesn’t usually cause immediate health problems but it can lead to rupturing (splitting) of the spleen. A ruptured spleen is a medical emergency and can lead to serious complications and surgery. It’s best to avoid physical activity, especially contact sports, for the first month of Mono symptoms, as this may damage your spleen. The main sign of a ruptured spleen is a sharp pain in your abdomen. You should go straight to the emergency department if you think your spleen may have ruptured.

Diagnosing Mononucleosis

Only a doctor can diagnose Mono (glandular fever). They may ask you:

  • When did your symptoms start?
  • Do you know if you have been exposed to anyone with Mono (glandular fever)?
  • Have your symptoms been occasional or continuous?
  • Does anything seem to worsen or improve your symptoms?

A physician will conduct a physical exam and may require a blood test to confirm mono.

Mono (Glandular Fever) Treatment and Recovery

  • Plenty of rest
  • Drink water
  • Pain relievers like ibuprofen or Tylenol
  • Avoid exercise and contact sports

Antibiotics won’t treat Mono (glandular fever). But plenty of rest and water will help you recover from the viral infection. You can take simple pain relievers for aches and pains, and gargle with salt water to help a sore throat.

Avoiding exercise (specifically contact sports) is recommended to speed up recovery and avoid complications like rupturing of the spleen. Rushing back to your normal schedule may cause your symptoms to return.

When to Speak to Your Doctor

Speak to your doctor initially if your primary symptom is sore throat and fever to make sure you don’t have strep throat. Most doctors will also send you for a blood test to check for mono if your symptoms are suspicious or you have been exposed. Although serious complications are rare with mononucleosis, they can happen. Call your doctor if you experience:

  • Problems breathing
  • Trouble swallowing liquids or saliva (dehydration)
  • Sharp abdominal pain
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Symptoms that don’t improve after a couple of weeks of rest

You may also develop a sinus infection or an infection of your tonsils (tonsillitis) as well. In this case, antibiotics may be prescribed.

FAQs

Do antibiotics cure Mono (Glandular fever)?

No. Antibiotics won’t treat glandular fever as the condition is caused by a virus. Antibiotics are only used to treat infections caused by bacteria. But you might be prescribed antibiotics if you also develop a bacterial infection of your throat or lungs. Don’t take antibiotics for mono unless they have been prescribed by your doctor.

How do I know if I have Mono (Glandular fever)?

The symptoms of glandular fever are tiredness, muscle aches, swollen glands in the throat, armpits, and groin. You will feel mentally and physically fatigued and you may experience a loss of appetite. You may also develop a sore and red throat that makes it difficult to swallow. You could also develop a rash on your skin, specifically on the chest area. Some people may experience enlargement or a swollen spleen (swelling near the stomach area). A blood test is the only way to confirm that you have Mono.

How long does it take to feel better from Mono (Glandular Fever)?

Mono (Glandular fever) symptoms usually last for two to three weeks. But some people find they feel extremely tired for a few months. You can boost your chances of a speedy recovery by getting lots of rest. You will probably have to miss school, sports practice, and social gatherings during this time, so be patient. Try to gradually increase your activity levels as you start to feel better.

How do I get Mono (Glandular fever)?

You catch Mono (Glandular fever) from someone who already has the virus. This virus is passed from person-to-person through saliva. This is why it’s also sometimes called ‘the kissing disease’. It can be passed on by sharing food, drink, and utensils with someone who is infected.

Mono has a long incubation period. If you catch Mono, you’re infectious for up to seven weeks before you start to show symptoms. To prevent Mono, avoid kissing others and don’t share cups, cutlery or towels.

Can I get Mono (Glandular fever) more than once?

Mono (Glandular fever) is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus which is part of the herpes virus family (like chickenpox). Once you catch mono, you’re unlikely to get it again. Your body produces antibodies that usually give you life-long immunity. So the good news is that once you get glandular fever, you most likely won’t get it again. But in rare cases, it can recur within the first year.

Are there long-term effects from Mono (Glandular fever)?

People who catch Mono (Glandular fever) don’t usually experience long-term complications. But people with immune system conditions (such as HIV) are more likely to catch it twice or develop serious problems. These include hepatitis (liver swelling), jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), anemia (low iron levels), and heart problems.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.