Mononucleosis, commonly called mono, is an infectious disease usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Infection occurs when bodily fluids are passed from one person to another by coughing, sneezing, sharing foods and drinks, and kissing. (Mononucleosis is often called the kissing disease.) The time from infection until the appearance of symptoms (the incubation period) is usually about six weeks.
Mononucleosis can sometimes cause complications. Throat pain and swelling of the tonsils can make it difficult for someone to drink enough fluids, and this can lead to dehydration. In such cases, hospitalization may be necessary, so that intravenous fluids can be administered.
Mono can also make the liver swell, which can cause pain in the right side of the abdomen, as well as jaundice (a yellowing of the skin), nausea, vomiting, and poor appetite. The spleen, which is located on the left side of the abdomen, may be affected. It can swell and, in rare cases, burst open to bleed in the abdomen. In other rare cases, the same virus that causes mononucleosis can cause meningitis, weakness, face paralysis (Bell's palsy), inflammation of the heart muscle, and anemia (low count of red blood cells).
Common symptoms include fever, sore throat, swollen tonsils, headaches, muscle aches, and swollen glands in the neck, armpits, and groin. A child will feel extreme tiredness and nausea, and have a poor appetite. Some children develop a pale red rash all over the body. Younger children often have less severe symptoms or no symptoms at all and appear to have a common cold along with fever, runny nose, cough, some tiredness, and loss of appetite.
It is difficult to prevent mononucleosis. Good hand-washing can help to prevent the spread of the virus that causes mononucleosis and other illnesses. There is no vaccine against mononucleosis, but those who have had one infection usually have immunity for life.
Because mono is a viral illness, antibiotics are not helpful and there is no fast cure. Treatment includes plenty of fluids and bed rest, which may result in lost time from school and other activities. Strenuous activities should be avoided so that the spleen does not swell; in very severe cases, it might rupture. To reduce fever, give acetaminophen (Children's Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Children's Advil). For sore throats, the child should gargle saltwater or take lozenges. The worst symptoms of mono usually decrease within a few weeks; swollen glands and fatigue can linger for weeks longer. In extreme causes of swelling (tonsils, throat, or spleen), your doctor might prescribe a corticosteroid to reduce it. Watch out for signs of liver trouble, including jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
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