What Everyone Ought to Know about Mono

mono symptoms

[© Jpcprod | Dreamstime.com] Most mono infections occur in teens and young adults, and most adults have had mono whether they remember it or not.

Q: How do I get mono?
Mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and is transmitted through saliva. While you can get mono through kissing, you can also become infected by sharing utensils or from a cough or a sneeze.

Q: What are the symptoms?
Symptoms usually develop four-to-six weeks after exposure and may consist of mild to no symptoms in some younger patients to the more typical symptoms in adolescents and young adults. These symptoms may include fatigue, general discomfort, sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes in the neck or arm pit, swollen tonsils, a headache and possibly an enlarged spleen or liver.

Q: How do you test for mono?
The diagnosis is based on patient history, physical exam and blood work. The blood work may include a monospot test (that detects a type of antibody during certain infections) and can be negative in some cases. A more specific test can be ordered which measures antibodies to the Epstein-Barr virus.

Q: Can I get mono more than once?
In most cases, a person will get mono only once. Once someone is exposed, they develop antibodies and are unlikely to become infected again. However, in some rare cases, symptoms may reappear months or even years later. If you have had mono before and start to experience symptoms again, contact your physician as some mono symptoms can mimic other conditions.

Q: How is mono treated?
There is no specific treatment for the virus that causes mono. Treatment with medications may help symptoms and control fever and pain. Some people may develop a secondary bacterial infection and require antibiotics other than Amoxicillin which often causes a rash in people with mono. If tonsil and lymph node swelling is severe, steroids may be given to decrease inflammation.

Q: Is mono more common in children or adults?
Most adults have had mono whether they remember it or not. More than 90 percent of adults have antibodies to the Epstein-Barr virus and are immune. Most infections occur in teens and young adults.

Q: Does having mono predispose me for any other complications?
Mono can result in severe complications, although they are uncommon. These can include liver problems, such as hepatitis and jaundice; an enlarged spleen, which in rare cases may rupture; blood problems with low blood counts; or neurologic complications.

If you suspect you have mono, contact your primary care physician for an evaluation, blood tests, if indicated, and treatment based on your individual symptoms. While mono is very common, it is usually a self-limiting disease that resolves without significant complications.

Sharon Silverman, M.D., is an internal medicine physician in Columbia. Call for an appointment, 410-964-5311.