Glandular fever

Also known as infectious mononucleosis or mono

Glandular fever is an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.

Gladular fever spreads through saliva, which is why it is sometimes called "kissing disease."

  • Infection can occur at any age, but is most commonly seen in 15 to 17-year olds.
  • Symptoms can include fever, sore throat, sore glands and tiredness which last a few days to few weeks.
  • Not everyone gets symptoms and many people have had it at some time, without knowing.

Symptoms

These can include:
  • flu like symptoms such as fever and headache
  • sore throat (often with white stuff on your tonsils)
  • swollen lymph glands (such as in your neck)
  • feeling generally unwell, joint pains
  • tiredness, and loss of appetite.

Diagnosis

If you have a sore throat and fever that has lasted for more than a few days, you should see your doctor/nurse for advice. If the symptoms and signs are typical, the diagnosis can be made based on your history and examination. If your doctor isn't so sure you may be asked to have a blood test to help confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment

Treatment focuses on reducing symptoms and includes: 

  • medicines for pain and fever eg paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • warm salt water gargles
  • plenty of rest and fluids
  • gradually increasing activity levels as you are able to.

What to expect

Most people get better in two to four weeks. However,  it can cause tiredness and loss of energy for a longer period – even up to a few months.

  • You can return to work, college or school as soon as you feel well enough.
  • There is little risk of spreading the infection to others as long as you follow common sense precautions, such as not kissing other people or sharing utensils.
  • You should avoid contact sports or activities that put you at risk of falling is because if you have a swollen spleen, a sudden knock could cause it to rupture.
  • You also need to avoid alcohol as this could damage your liver, which is often affected by the infection.

NOTE: complete bed rest is no longer recommended, as it can make the symptoms of fatigue last longer.

If you think you or a family member may have glandular fever, you should see your doctor. This is important as there can be complications that can occur. These include:

  • swollen or ruptured spleen, (rupture 1 in 1000, usually result of contact sport)
  • neurological, (1 in 100)
  • blood cells
  • secondary infection
  • prolonged fatigue (1 in 10)
  • hepatitis

Self care

If you develop glandular fever, you should avoid kissing and sharing eating and drinking utensils for at least two months after your symptoms begin.

You also need to take extra care with washing your hands regularly, particularly after coughing or sneezing.

You do not need to be isolated from others, because most people will already be immune to the Epstein-Barr virus.

Learn more

The UK based NHS website has a useful section on glandular fever

Credits: Health Navigator team. Latest update May 2014. Reviewed By: Health Navigator