You may have heard of Mono referred to as “the kissing disease.” The actual name is mononucleosis and is one of the most contagious infections in the human population. Nearly every adult in the United States was infected with mono at some point in their lives. It is a major cause of lost time from work and school since it often has a very long recovery period. This article will help you learn more about mono, how you really get it, and how to recovery quickly.
Mono is a highly contagious infection caused by the, Epstein-Barr virus or EBV. This infection is most common in children, teens, young adults and people in college. Mononucleosis can be caused by other viruses, but EBV tends to be the main cause.
Mono is truly a “kissing disease” but can be spread in many ways. It is transmitted via the saliva, blood, and other body fluids. You can get mono from sharing cups, utensils, and toothbrushes. So, you don’t necessarily have to kiss someone to catch mono.
Mono takes around 4 to 6 weeks to show symptoms after you have been infected. In children, the symptoms may show up quicker. Mono usually clears up on its own in 2 to 4 weeks. It can take longer with symptoms and fatigue lasting up to 6 months or even longer periods depending on your immune system function.
Mono can mimic many other illnesses. The symptoms of mono include:
Sore throat (often thought to be strep)
Swelling of the tonsils
Tender swollen spleen
If you were diagnosed with strep or any other illness with these symptoms and they do not go away within two weeks, see your doctor to be tested for mono.
If you have the symptoms above see your doctor. Mono can be a severe infection and requires rest, fluids, and restrictions until you recover. Getting diagnosed early can prevent complications. The doctor will perform a few tests to confirm if you have mono including:
The Monospot Test. If you have symptoms of mono, your doctor can perform this preliminary test right away. It isn’t very accurate, but can confirm a case of general infectious mono. Testing for the Epstein-Barr virus needs more sensitive testing. With these tests, the doctor can tell what stage of mono you are at; Acute phase, recovery phase, and antibodies that last for life after the infection clears. These include:
Acute Mono and Recovery Phase
Early Antigen (EA). This is elevated during acute mono and goes away 3 to 6 months after recovery. This tells your doctor you are in the middle of an active mono infection.
Anti-VCA IgM. This antibody will show up during the acute mono phase and go away 4 to 6 weeks after infection.
Anti-VCA IgG. This antibody shows up during acute mono and is at its highest 2 to 4 weeks into the infection, but stays in the body for life.
These tests usually peak during the acute phase of a mono infection and decline over the recovery phase. Doctors can usually tell what phase you are at in the infection by how the numbers on these tests look. For example; you may have some Early Antigen (EA) present in your blood, but also beginning to decline on the Anti-VCA IgG. With that information the doctor can tell you that you have had mono for about 3 to 4 weeks and should be getting better soon.
Post Infection Antibodies
EBV Nuclear Antigen (EBNA)
This test will not be positive during acute mono, but will show antibodies around 2 to 4 months after recovery from mono. These antibodies stay in your body for life. This test is useful to show the doctor if you had mono in the past.
Your doctor may check your lymph nodes and spleen with either a CT scan or Ultrasound. The virus can cause severe inflammation and secondary infections in the lymph nodes. A CT scan can check the spleen for enlargement or check for rupture.
Mono is a virus so antibiotics will not work. Often the diagnosis of mono is made after antibiotics prescribed for strep throat fail to clear the infection. The following are the treatments for mono:
Bed Rest. The infection is sometimes so severe, you are too fatigued and weak to get out of bed. This usually goes away after about two weeks. Do not do any heavy lifting or contact sports for 8 weeks. The spleen may become inflamed and can rupture.
Fluids. As with any infection, it is important to get plenty of fluids. Warm drinks can help your sore throat and electrolyte replacements can help prevent dehydration.
Pain and Fever Medications. Your doctor may instruct you to take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and fever. Do not give aspirin to children and teenagers due to the risk of Reye syndrome, which is a severe reaction.
A few easy lifestyle changes can help you recover faster and relieve symptoms. These include:
Gargle with warm salt water
Avoid any heavy lifting
Rest when you feel tired
Eat a diet rich in antioxidants. (Green vegetables and peppers, blueberries, tomatoes, and cherries)
Stay away from processed and fast foods
Try not to drink caffeine, alcohol or smoke tobacco
Do not eat or drink after anyone that is suffering from mono
Wash your hands after using the restroom or visiting public areas
Home Remedies for Mono
There are a few supplements that may help shorten the course of mono and relieve symptoms. Check with your doctor before using any alternative remedy. Some helpful remedies are:
Probiotics. Probiotics can help boost the immune system and bring back the proper balance to your body. Make sure you use Lactobacillus acidophilus At least 5 to 10 billion units every day.
Green Tea. Green tea is full of natural antioxidants that can help cleanse the body of toxins. It may also help relieve inflammation and have some natural anti-viral effects.
Echinacea. Echinacea is an herb that can help improve immune system function. Use caution if you have an autoimmune disorder or need to keep your immune system lower for any reason.
Cranberry. Cranberry may have virus fighting capabilities, but studies have not shown effectiveness for EBV. Use with caution if you take blood thinners.
Mono can affect all areas of the body, especially the nervous system, the brain, and spine. Some nervous system conditions it can cause are:
Bell’s Palsy (Facial nerve paralysis)
Encephalitis (Brain Swelling)
Meningitis (Inflammation of the spinal cord)
Optic neuritis (Eye nerve swelling)
Other complications include:
Swelling of the heart
Infection of the lymph nodes
Blockage of the air passages
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