How Do You Get Mono? Learn the Risks

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
April 7, 2022

Mononucleosis, commonly referred to as “mono,” sometimes also called “the kissing disease.”

This is because the infection is often spread through saliva and is quite easy to pass on to others.

Mononucleosis is caused by the virus Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

EBV is a  common  virus  and almost everyone will catch it by the time they’re adults—though not everyone will exhibit symptoms.

In this article, we’ll explore what exactly mono is, what causes it, and how you might contract it. 

We’ll also dive into certain precautions you can take to minimize the spread and contraction of the disease and flag when you should contact your doctor or healthcare provider.

What is Mono (Mononucleosis)?

Infectious mononucleosis, also known as mono, is a contagious disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

The resulting illness is usually mild and can last a few weeks, although in rare cases, it may persist for a few months. 

Some of the most common symptoms of mono overlap with those of the common cold or flu.

These symptoms include:

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Causes of Mono 

Mono is caused by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which is part of the herpes family; however, some other viruses can also trigger mono symptoms. 

If you are infected with EBV, you may or may not experience any symptoms at all. 

How Mono Spreads

Mono spreads through saliva. 

Apart from kissing an infected person, you can also get mono from sharing foods, drinks, and utensils with an infected person.

You may also get it if you’re sneezed or coughed on by a person with mono. 

Mono can spread through the transmission of infected bodily fluids, such as blood or semen, as well as organ transplants and blood transfusions. 

Who is at Risk for Mono

Everyone—no matter age or lifestyle—who comes into contact with saliva, blood, semen, or other bodily fluids from an infected person is at risk of contracting mono.

We also know that most people do get EBV at some point; in fact, over 90% of adults have been infected at some point in their life.

Young children who get EBV are very often asymptomatic.

On the other hand, teenagers and young people in their twenties are quite likely to present with symptoms. 

The risk or severity associated with mono may be serious for populations living with compromised immune systems, like:

  • Young children
  • Senior people
  • Those recovering from chemotherapy, HIV/AIDs treatment, and organ transplants
  • People with chronic and congenitally weaker immune systems

Preventing Mono

There are several different ways to prevent mono. 

To protect yourself from mono, take the following precautions: 

  • Don’t share drinks, mugs, glasses, straws, food, utensils, inhalers, toothbrushes, or cigarettes with others.
  • Avoid kissing and touching people infected with mono.
  • Avoid  people who are sick or who show signs of any infection—not just mono. 
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle by washing your hands regularly, sanitizing anything that comes in contact with your face, and keeping a clean home.
  • Use a barrier method of protection when having sexual intercourse to avoid getting mono through infected blood or semen. 
  • Eat healthy foods, and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep every night.
  • Keep your body fit and healthy by exercising regularly. Movement doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial; even incorporating a walk into your routine can help. 
  • Take extra precautions when it comes to those with compromised immunity like the elderly, small children, and those living with other chronic illnesses. 

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When to See a Doctor

If you have mono and feel like you feel faint, or feel disoriented,, seek medical care from your doctor or healthcare professional immediately. 

You should also see your doctor, call 911, or go to the emergency department (ED) as soon as possible if you faint or experience any sudden  pains in the left side of your upper abdomen.

This could be a sign of a spleen rupture, which requires emergency care.

Reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider if your mono symptoms do not subside after 10 days, or if you have a severe sore throat or inflammation.

Your doctor or healthcare provider may conduct a blood test to determine whether you actually have mono or are suffering from another ailment.

How K Health Can Help

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What is the main cause of mono?
The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a herpes virus, is the most common cause of mono. However, some other viruses can also cause this disease. EBVis common among children, teenagers, and young adults.
Can you randomly get mono?
You need to come in contact with an infected person’s saliva or bodily fluids to catch mono. If you are not aware that the person has mono (usually because they are asymptomatic), then you may catch it. Once you do, the virus will always remain in your body though most of the time, it is dormant.
How do you get mono without kissing?
Kissing is not the only way to contract mono. It can also be transmitted between people by activities that involve infected saliva such as sharing drinks and using another person's utensils or toothbrush, or through other bodily fluids like blood.
Is mono an STD?
If mono is passed from person to person through sexual contact, then it is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). However, mono is called “the kissing disease” because it’s usually spread through contact with saliva.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.

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