Given its popular nickname “the kissing disease,” mono (infectious mononucleosis) is most often believed to be spread through saliva.
While saliva is in fact the most common way the virus is spread, it can also be spread through vaginal, cervical, and penile secretions.
In these instances, it can be considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Despite the way the virus is contracted, the symptoms are relatively the same.
Read on to learn more about the virus, who’s at risk, and how it’s treated.
What is Mono?
Infectious mononucleosis, more commonly referred to as mono, is a contagious disease characterized by a common group of flu-like symptoms usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).
It’s typically a mild illness, albeit an uncomfortable one, that lasts two to four weeks, though it can last months.
Mononucleosis is most common in young adults.
In many cases, it can be hard to tell mono apart from the flu (or influenza), as they share similar symptoms.
In some cases, a blood test is required to diagnose the virus. While there is no direct cure for mono, at-home remedies and medications are used to ease discomfort and pain until the infection has resolved.
Is Mono Contagious?
Mono is contagious, although the exact incubation period is unclear—it may continue to be contagious for up to three months or longer after symptoms are gone.
Conversely, some people who have mono may never experience symptoms, but they can still be contagious.
Even after a person has fully recovered from mono, EBV will remain inactive in their bodies forever and will be shed occasionally in the throat, allowing that person to potentially spread the virus to others.
It is believed that most people have been infected with EBV by the time they reach adulthood.
Is Mono Considered an STD?
In cases where it is passed through sexual contact, mono can be considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD), although mono is more often spread through contact with saliva.
EBV is a member of the herpes virus family, along with the viruses that cause herpes and chickenpox.
How does Mono Spread?
EBV and similar viruses that cause infectious mononucleosis can also be spread through blood, bodily fluids, sexual contact, and organ transplantation.
How to prevent the spread of mono
There is no vaccine to protect against mono.
You can help prevent spreading mono to others by avoiding close contact with other people and refraining from kissing or sharing food, beverages, and personal items with others.
Who is More at Risk for Mono?
Teens and young adults ages 15–24 are the most at risk of being infected with mono.
They also tend to have the most severe symptoms.
In fact, at least one in four teenagers and young adults who get infected with EBV will develop infectious mononucleosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Can you have mono twice?
EBV stays in your body in an inactive form even after mono symptoms go away.
Because of this, there is very little chance of catching mono after you’ve had it once.
In rare cases, usually associated with a weakened immune system, EBV can reactivate in the body, but even then your symptoms are likely to be mild, if perceptible at all.
There’s no cure for infectious mononucleosis.
Most treatment options, including medications and home remedies, will instead focus on relieving your symptoms.
It’s important to get plenty of rest and drink fluids as your body fights the infection.
To ease discomfort in severe cases, your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid to reduce swelling in the throat, tonsils, and glands.
Mono treatment can also include over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as acetaminophen to help reduce fever or ease headaches.
To soothe throat pain, try at-home remedies for sore throat, such as:
- Gargling with warm saltwater
- Eating warm soup
- Drinking warm beverages, such as tea with honey or warm water with lemon
- Sucking on lozenges that soothe or temporarily numb the throat
- Using sore throat sprays
- Eating popsicles, ice cream, and other cold, soft foods
In most cases, mono symptoms will resolve within four weeks, although some people continue to experience extreme fatigue for weeks afterwards. In more severe cases, mono can last for six months or longer.
If you are diagnosed with mono, refrain from taking antibiotics.
These are used to treat bacterial infections—because mono is a viral infection, antibiotics will not help.
If taken while you have mono, antibiotics such as amoxicillin or doxycycline may cause a rash.
When to See a Doctor
If you’re experiencing signs of mono, make an appointment with your doctor or primary care provider to get a diagnosis.
Once you are diagnosed with mono, you likely won’t need to see your provider again.
The majority of mono symptoms can be treated from home with adequate rest, and your symptoms should begin to ease within two to four weeks.
If you see no improvement in your condition after two weeks, or if your symptoms get worse, contact your doctor.
It’s worth checking whether there’s something more serious going on.
If you suddenly experience intense pain in the upper left side of your abdomen, it could be a sign of spleen rupture, and it’s imperative that you go to the hospital or call 911.
Since mono can cause an enlarged spleen, you should avoid any contact sports until your symptoms have resolved.
How K Health Can Help
Mono is highly contagious so if you’re experiencing symptoms you should talk to a doctor to get a diagnosis. Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K Health to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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