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.
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, and groin), and unexplained constant fatigue or weakness.
Other symptoms of mono can include:
- 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 the enlarged lymph nodes and spleen can last longer. And in some kids, especially 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.
Most kids who get mono recover completely with no problem, but in rare cases, complications can occur. These can include blood disorders, such as hemolytic anemia, which involves the increased destruction of red blood cells, and Bell's palsy, an inflammation of a facial nerve that can weaken and paralyze the face muscles (usually temporary).
Other rare complications of mono include rupture of the spleen and inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis).
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.
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: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2008