What is mononucleosis—’mono’—and how do I get it?

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Mononucleosis, “mono” for short, is also known as the kissing disease.

The condition gets its nickname because of its primary mode of transmission—through saliva. While you don’t actually have to kiss someone with mononucleosis to contract the virus, once you have mono, the virus remains in your system forever.

What are the symptoms of mono?

Mono, mononucleosis

People with mono often experience extreme fatigue, making everyday tasks difficult. (Shutterstock)

Mononucleosis is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a type of herpes virus, and the majority of people who contract the illness are between the ages of 15 and 25. In young children, the symptoms often go unnoticed because they tend to be mild.

Individuals who have symptoms present often experience:

From the time of contraction, mono takes approximately four to six weeks to incubate within the body. The Mayo Clinic indicates there is no specific treatment for mononucleosis because it is a virus; sleep and plenty of fluids is the body’s best bet. Once symptoms are gone, the virus will remain in the body, occasionally becoming active.

During these active periods, it is possible to transmit the virus to others, even if you are not exhibiting symptoms.

How do you get mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis is most often spread through saliva, so naturally, kissing is one of the primary ways it is transmitted. That being said, any action which involves saliva swapping can transmit mono—including sharing utensils and drinks.

The virus which causes mono is present in mucus from the nose and in tears, so contact with these fluids can transmit the infection as well.

According to WebMD, mono is primarily transmitted by:

Mono, mononucleosis

People who swap drink may also be swapping mononucleosis. (Shutterstock)

  • Kissing
  • Sharing utensils (forks, straws, spoons)
  • Sharing beverages
  • Sharing chap stick, lipstick or lip gloss
  • Blood transfusion (rare)

What do I do if I have mono?

Because there is no cure for mono, treatment means allowing symptoms to resolve on their own. Some individuals may benefit from pain relievers, though most simply need plenty of rest and fluids to flush out their systems. Once the symptoms of mono are gone, most healthy people never have them reoccur even though the virus remains in the body.

Mononucleosis can be dormant for weeks, months or years, occasionally reactivating without symptoms. This is when mono is most likely to be transmitted to others.

Individuals who experience extreme fatigue or other symptoms should be tested for mono. Once you know you have the virus, you must always be careful about sharing food, beverages and intimate moments with others. Consult with your health professional.

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