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Mononucleosis

Your groggy teenager whines and drags his feet more than usual. He complains about a sore throat. You suspected mononucleosis and the doctor just confirmed that you were right.

Symptoms

Continuous (almost chronic) fatigue and a sore throat are the two main and the first symptoms of mononucleosis, the ones that generally lead to the doctor’s office. The lymph nodes swell significantly and so do the tonsils, at a point where they sometimes touch. These symptoms are usually accompanied by a severe and persistent fever.

The “mono” virus (known since 1800 and first called glandular fever) usually affects teenagers and young adults; the medical community still ignores why they are more vulnerable. “90% of all adults present a positive antibody test but most of them will never be sick, explains Dr. Julie Lalancette, family doctor working at the GMF (Family Medicine Group) of Saint-Eustache, We would also find antibodies in children from birth to five years old but they are rarely sick”, she adds, mentioning that is it important to make the difference between fighting a disease (developing antibodies, i.e. being infected) and being sick (showing symptoms).

Contagious but benign

Because it is viral, this great fatigue disease can be transmitted. Being touched by a few drops of saliva or of mucus coming from a person who sneezes next to us can be enough to contract the virus, says Dr. Lalancette. Close contacts, like kisses, or blood transfusions can also transmit the disease, even though it is rare. Furthermore, “because the incubation period is from one to two months, we hardly remember how we caught it”.

Three weeks after the apparition of the first symptoms, we generally notice a swelling of the spleen: active people should stop practicing sports for three weeks to reduce the risks of hits that could lead to a splenic rupture.

Although very distressing, the mono remains a benign disease. This disease can only lead to serious consequences in immunosuppressed people, like persons who suffer from AIDS or cancer, says Dr. Lalancette.

Treatment

There is no way to prevent mononucleosis and there is no treatment to chase it away. In fact, it is a “support treatment”, says Dr. Lalancette. “Acetaminophen, to bring down the fever, good hydration because the patients are often dehydrated and sometimes an analgesic for the sore throat are recommended”.

The fever and the sore throat usually last around a week but the fatigue can last for up to three months. However, it is rare that it lasts for so long. The patients usually regain a reasonable amount of energy after four weeks, says Dr. Lalancette.

Doctors don’t systematically prescribe a sick leave for affected children. In fact, parents can decide to reduce the activities of their sick child according to his level of tolerance. This way, if your teen is too tired, he can spend only half a day in school instead of a full day. Maintaining a good communication with the school is essential to avoid learning delays.

Finally, can we be stuck with “recurrent mono”? “No, says the doctor, when you caught it once, you are immune. Case closed.”

By Josée Descôteaux

This week

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