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I distinctly remember when I had mono – I was a sophomore at UGA. The semester was off to a great start, until one day I woke up feeling like I had been run over by a mack truck- fever, muscle aches, sore throat, trouble swallowing. I dragged myself to the university health center where I promptly passed out while waiting to get my blood drawn. Sure enough I had mono.

So…What is mono?

Mononucleosis is an infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It causes fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. If you tested adults for evidence of this infection through a blood test, almost 95% would show signs of having this infection before (even if they never remember it!).  In childhood, this virus usually causes a mild illness or no symptoms at all. In general the older you are the first time you are exposed to EBV, the worse the illness will be.

Why is it called the kissing disease?

EBV is passed mainly through saliva, which means those teenage hormones may certainly be contributing to passing EBV from person to person. However, don’t forget about sharing water bottles or eating off someone’s plate. Also, the virus typically quietly hides out in the body for four to eight weeks before wreaking havoc.  So maybe the current boyfriend isn’t totally to blame…

What are the symptoms of mono in teens?

Nearly all kids with mono will have swollen glands (lymph nodes) and fever. Most kids will have sore throat and tiredness as well. The fever and sore throat usually get better within a month, but the extreme tiredness can take a while to get better (anywhere from 2-6 months).

What is the spleen and what does it have to do with mono?

The spleen lives on the left side of your body, beneath your diaphragm and lungs, protected by the ribcage. It acts as a big lymph node and blood filter. In mono, the spleen becomes enlarged in about half of patients. An enlarged spleen (or splenomegaly) can cause some mild abdominal tenderness; however if significant belly pain is present, your child should be checked out immediately to rule out splenic rupture (a rare complication of splenomegaly). Whenever I suspect mono, I recommend no contact sports for 4-6 weeks to give time for the spleen to return to a normal size.

What can I do to help my teen feel better?

Treating the symptoms is your best bet to getting your teen feeling better. For fever, sore throat and headache, you can give Tylenol or ibuprofen. Plenty of fluids and lots of rest will also help. In rare cases, such as difficulty breathing or swallowing, steroids may be needed. After the fever has gone away, returning to school and normal activities should be determined by how your child is feeling.

Can you get mono twice?

Most people develop immunity to EBV, but keep in mind, there are many other viruses that can cause mono-like illnesses!

My teen wants to know if she can ever kiss again…

The virus is contained in saliva for a long time- up to six months after the initial illness! I’ll leave it up to the parents’ discretion to use this knowledge as you please.