What you might not know about mononucleosis

With the school year underway, it's likely your child or teen will come down with a cold or other illness as they are exposed to more germs. Dr. Ben Katz, infectious disease specialist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, helps to educate and address myths about mononucleosis (mono) and how it's spread.

According to Katz, 95 percent of all mono cases are caused by the Epstein-Barr virus — a virus that once it's in the body stays there forever.

“Mono is a viral illness that is often called the ‘kissing disease' because it is transmitted through saliva but it can also spread through a cough or sneeze, or by sharing a glass or food utensils with someone,” says Katz, who has spent the last 30 years studying the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) which causes 95 percent of all mono cases.

Symptoms include fever, terrible sore throat, swollen glands in the neck and extreme fatigue.

What's interesting is that this disease has very little effect on young children. “Some little kids will get the virus, but have no symptoms,” Katz said. “This means they are now protected for life, so that's a good thing.”

Most kids are asymptomatic causing the virus to go undetected and increases the chance of passing it on to others through bodily fluids. When symptoms are experienced, they don't show up until four to six weeks after infection.

Unfortunately, those who experience symptoms will have to wait for the illness to suppress.

“The trouble with EBV infection is that symptoms aren't due to replicating virus, but the body's reaction to it,” Katz said. “So even if you give medicine to someone with mono, the virus numbers go down, but the symptoms are exactly the same. Treating mono with any kind of antiviral agent isn't recommended.”

Because mono is a viral illness, it's extremely important to be careful with bodily secretions.

Katz provided a list of do's and don'ts for the weeks following being infected with mono:

• Do cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

• Avoid contact sports due to an enlarged spleen.

• Don't share drinks, straws, toothbrushes or eating utensils and don't kiss others.

If you or a loved one experience the symptoms mentioned above, head to your primary care doctor where a screening can be done to give you an official diagnosis.

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

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