Most people misidentify mononucleosis, more commonly known as mono, as the kissing disease. While kissing can spread mono, coughing, sneezing or any other contact with the saliva of someone who’s been infected can also spread it. While symptoms will typically go away on their own within a few weeks, it is important that you know if your child has mono so he or she can get enough rest and fluids.
Symptoms Of Mono
Typically, signs of mono will show up 4 to 7 weeks after the virus was contracted. Because mono symptoms are so similar to those of the flu and strep throat (sore throat, fever, fatigue), the virus is often misidentified. However, additional signs of mono include:
- Sore muscles
- Swollen tonsils
- Skin rash
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
Some kids with mono may have a combination of these, while others experience very mild symptoms. While symptoms will usually dissipate within 2 to 4 weeks of contraction, fatigue and weakness have been known to last as long as a few months.
Adults also tend to suffer from symptoms for up to three months—much longer than children. If your child is suffering from any of the above symptoms, a doctor will need to perform a blood test and physical exam to properly diagnose the virus.
Who Is At Risk
Although the peak ages for infection are 15 to 17, infants and kids under age four are still at risk of the Epstein-Barr virus, but they may not show symptoms. People who are in close contact with large groups of people are typically at an increased risk for mono, which is why high school and college-aged students tend to get infected more frequently.
Because symptoms of mono are very similar to other viral infections, diagnosing mononucleosis in children can be difficult. In fact, some children have such mild symptoms of mono that they are able to recover without any diagnosis or treatment needed. However, if you believe your child has mono, you should seek medical care as soon as possible.
A doctor will likely do one or all of the following if he or she suspects your child is suffering from mono:
- To start the appointment, your child’s doctor will likely want to do a routine physical exam. During the exam, the doctor will check for signs of mono such as swollen lymph nodes, tonsils, liver or spleen.
- A complete blood count panel: this test will allow the doctor to see how severe the illness is. High or low levels of certain cells, such as lymphocyte, can indicate that your child has mono.
- A monospot test: this test: this test looks for antibodies (with the exception of EBV antibodies) to determine your child is infected. The monospot test may show up negative if it is done too early.
- Epstein-Barr virus antibody test: If your child’s monospot test comes back negative, the doctor may recommend that an EBV antibody test be given. This will allow your child’s doctor to detect mono as early as possible.
Normally a doctor will also check your child for strep throat since a sore throat, fever and swollen glands are common symptoms of strep throat.
Complications From Mono
While most people who get mono never suffer from any additional complications, they can happen in rare cases. Complications from mono can include anemia, meningitis, difficulty breathing, inflammation of the heart and problems with the liver or spleen.
Monitoring Mono With Sports
Because so many kids who get mono are involved in sports of some sort, it is important you know how to handle the situation. Because mono is often associated with enlargement of the spleen, it is recommended that kids who get mono stay away from sports for at least one month after the onset of symptoms. In addition to sports, kids who have mono should also avoid vigorous activity of any kind. Talk to your child’s PE teacher about the situation so your child is not asked to exert him or herself too much physically.
How To Prevent Mono
While there is no vaccine for mono, there are efforts your child can take to avoid getting the virus. Teach your child to wash their hands regularly, to never share utensils and to never drink after someone else. If someone in your family is infected, make sure to thoroughly clean all dishware that has been used.
How To Treat Mono
Unfortunately, antibiotics won’t help mono go away, so it is important to alleviate the symptoms as much as possible. If your child does contract the virus, he or she should get plenty of rest, especially in the early stages of the illness. While ibuprofen and acetaminophen can both help relieve a fever and aching muscles, aspirin should be avoided as it can lead to liver failure or even death when given to a child with a viral illness. Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids as well while recovering.
Can You Get Mono Twice?
Although very rare, symptoms of mono can recur months, or even years, after the initial infection. Epstein-Barr virus causes the majority of mononucleosis cases. Once you have been infected by EBV, you carry the virus for the remainder of your life. While the virus is typically in a dormant state, it can be reactivated periodically. Whenever this happens, the virus can be detected in your saliva. However, it is rare that this will make you ill.
If you believe your child may have mono, it is a good idea to get a diagnosis from a medical professional. At Medical City Children’s Hospital Urgent Care, our pediatricians are board certified. We provide quick, efficient access to the expert care you need right when you need it and are even open after hours or on the weekend.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you or your child.