Your child is tired, achy, and complains of a sore throat. You think she's coming down with a cold, or maybe the flu. Chances are you're right, but there's also a chance she could have a condition called mononucleosis (also known as "mono").

What is Mononucleosis?
You may know mononucleosis as  the "kissing disease." It's commonly referred to by this name because of its highly contagious nature. In fact, teenagers have been known to pass the Epstein Barr Virus, which is what usually causes mono, to one another through the spread of saliva. But intimate contact is just one way the illness spreads.

Mono can also be passed from one person to another by sharing drinks, food, or utensils, or even from being near an infected person who coughs or sneezes into the air. Furthermore, the person doesn't have to be sick to transfer this virus. It can remain dormant in one's body for life (and still be contagious), making it especially difficult to avoid.

Teens and Young Adults are Particularly at Risk

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that while anyone can become ill with mononucleosis, young people between the ages of 15 and 30 are particularly at risk. This can be at least in part because the stress, busy schedules, and late nights that are so common in high school and college can make a person's immune system more susceptible.

Signs of Mononucleosis

When your child first gets sick, you can easily overlook the signs of mono, since they can mimic many other illnesses. Here's what to look for:

  • Fever and chills
  • Sore throat
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Headache
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Loss of appetite

How Mononucleosis is Diagnosed

The only way to know for sure that your child has mononucleosis is to take her to the pediatrician and have her tested.  Your doctor will probably do a blood test to see if she's anemic, and check for an elevated white blood count that's typically associated with mono; he'll see if her spleen or liver is enlarged. He can also check for Epstein Barr Virus antibodies to help confirm the  diagnosis.

If your child does have mono, there's no medication that can speed up the healing. The mononucleosis signs and symptoms can last for up to a few weeks, or even longer in some cases. In the meantime, you can take some steps to help her be more comfortable until the illness resolves on its own:

  • Give OTC fever reducers
  • Offer plenty of cold or frozen drinks
  • Have her gargle with warm water and salt
  • Provide throat lozenges
  • Make sure she gets enough rest

Some patients also get strep throat with mononucleosis. In that case, taking an antibiotic will also be necessary.

A Word of Warning

Even after your child feels better and resumes her daily routine, it's important to make sure she takes it easy and avoids strenuous activities for about a month  since spleen complications can pose a continuing risk.


American Academy of Pediatrics