Infectious mononucleosis, or mono, refers to a group of symptoms usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It typically occurs in teenagers, but you can get it at any age. The virus is spread through saliva, which is why some people call it “the kissing disease.”
People with mono often have a high fever, swollen lymph glands, and a sore throat. Most cases of mono are mild and resolve easily with minimal treatment. The infection is typically not serious and usually goes away on its own in one to two months.
How is mono treated? There’s no specific treatment for infectious mononucleosis. However, your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid medication to reduce throat and tonsil swelling. The symptoms usually resolve on their own in one to two months.
Treatment is aimed at easing your symptoms. This includes using over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to reduce fever and techniques to calm a sore throat, such as gargling salt water. Other home treatments that may ease symptoms include:
getting a lot of rest
staying hydrated, ideally by drinking water
eating warm chicken soup
using OTC pain medications such as Tylenol
Outlook and recovery from mono. The symptoms of mono seldom last for more than four months. The majority of people who have mono recover within two to four weeks, and 50 percent can return to regular activities in two weeks, according to the Cleveland Clinic. An illness called chronic EBV infection can occur if symptoms last for more than six months. EBV will remain dormant in your blood cells for the rest of your life, and it can occasionally reactivate without symptoms. It’s possible to spread the virus to others through contact with your saliva during this time.
EBV also establishes a lifelong, inactive infection in your body’s immune system cells. In some very rare cases, people who carry the virus develop either Burkitt’s lymphoma or nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which are both rare cancers. EBV appears to play a role in the development of these cancers. However, EBV is probably not the only cause.