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Mononucleosis

What Is "Mono"?

Mononucleosis — or "mono" — is an infection that produces flu-like symptoms, and usually goes away on its own in a few weeks with the help of plenty of fluids and rest.

Mono is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a very common virus that most kids are exposed to at some point while growing up. Infants and young kids infected with EBV usually have very mild symptoms or none at all. But teens and young adults who become infected often develop mono.

Mono is spread through kissing, coughing, sneezing, or any contact with the saliva of someone who has been infected with the virus. (That's how mono got nicknamed "the kissing disease.") It can also be spread through other types of direct contact, like sharing a straw or an eating utensil. Researchers believe that mono may be spread sexually as well.

Symptoms

Symptoms of mono can often be mistaken for the flu or strep throat. Call your doctor if your child has a fever, a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes (in the neck, underarms, or groin), or unexplained constant fatigue or weakness.

Other symptoms of mono can include:

  • headaches
  • sore muscles
  • larger-than-normal liver and spleen
  • skin rash
  • abdominal pain

Kids with mono may have different combinations of these symptoms, and some teens may have symptoms so mild that they are hardly noticeable. Your doctor will likely perform a blood test to make a firm diagnosis.

Mono symptoms usually go away on their own within 2 to 4 weeks. But in some teens, the fatigue and weakness can last for months.

Mono and Sports

Doctors usually recommend that kids who get mono avoid sports for at least a month after symptoms are gone because the spleen is usually enlarged temporarily from the illness. An enlarged spleen can rupture easily — causing internal bleeding, fever, and abdominal pain — and require emergency surgery. Vigorous activities, contact sports, weightlifting, cheerleading, or even wrestling with siblings or friends should be avoided until your doctor gives the OK.

Complications

Most kids who get mono recover completely with no problem, but in rare cases, complications can occur. These can include problems with the liver or spleen, anemia, meningitis, trouble breathing, or inflammation of the heart.

Prevention and Treatment

There is no vaccine for the Epstein-Barr virus, but you can try to protect your kids from mono by making sure that they avoid close contact with other kids who have it. But sometimes people have the virus without any symptoms and can still pass it to others. So teach your kids to wash their hands often, and not to share drinks or eating utensils with others, even when they seem healthy.

The best treatment for mono is plenty of rest, especially early in the course of the illness when symptoms are the most severe. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help to relieve the fever and aching muscles. Remember, never give aspirin to a child who has a viral illness because this has been associated with the development of Reye syndrome, which may lead to liver failure and can be fatal.

In most cases, the symptoms of mono go away in a matter of weeks with plenty of rest and fluids. If the symptoms seem to linger, or if you have any other questions, talk with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: January 2011

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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