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How Long Is the Mononucleosis Incubation Period?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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The mononucleosis incubation period is four to seven weeks. A few minor complications stem from this long incubation period. One is that the latency period, the period between initial infection and ability to infect others, is much shorter than the mononucleosis incubation period; an individual with mono can infect many other people before symptoms appear. The same result occurs if an individual with mononucleosis never develops symptoms.

By the time an individual turns 18, there is a 90% chance that he or she has been exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus, the agent that causes mononucleosis. Most individuals experience the virus as children and usually suffer no symptoms. For teenagers and young adults, symptoms of fatigue, fever and loss of appetite occur for roughly two to three weeks after the mononucleosis incubation period. In these cases, symptoms force infected individuals to refrain from school or work for a period of time. Though limiting contact with others during this time reduces the chance of more infections, the nature of the preceding incubation period makes an individual extremely infectious.

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Within the mononucleosis incubation period is an extremely short latency period, lasting only a few days. Afterward, an individual is extremely infectious until a few weeks after symptoms of mononucleosis cease. Therefore, for most of the incubation period, there is a high chance that an infected individual will infect others. Though mononucleosis is known as the "kissing disease," its transfer through saliva makes it possible to infect others through other means. For example, the close proximity of students at a school gives rises to many occasions when accidental infection can occur.

Out of all cases of mononucleosis, there is a small percentage of individuals who never develop symptoms. Though they themselves never suffer any ill effects, these individuals are still extremely infectious to others. In fact, as they never have to remain home due to illness, they have more chances to infect other than if they had become sick. As it may be impossible to tell who has the virus, remembering to wash one's hands and not share cups are two ways to prevent becoming infected.

If one should become infected, bed rest is advised if symptoms should arise after the mononucleosis incubation period. Limiting activity reduces the chances of severe side effects: jaundice, hepatitis, splenic rupture and meningitis. Over-the-counter pain killers can help relieve the muscle aches associated with the condition.

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