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What Are the Different Mononucleosis Tests?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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There are two primary mononucleosis tests: the monospot test and the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) antibody test. These tests detect the presence of mononucleosis (mono), a condition that primarily infects individuals during adolescence. Though the virus that causes mono is rarely dangerous, mono's infectiousness makes it necessary to confirm whether or not a patient has the condition. Mononucleosis tests make it possible to isolate a patient at home before he or she can infect others.

Mononucleosis is a condition caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, a type of herpes. Spread through saliva transfer, the incubation time is anywhere between four and seven weeks; a patient is infectious during this time. Symptoms such as fever, lethargy, weight loss and an enlarged spleen last two to three weeks. As the spleen is sensitive during this time, physicians advise against physical activity, especially sports. Even after symptoms clear up, the virus remains in a patient's body for the rest of his or her life.

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If a patient presents with the symptoms described in the previous paragraph, a physician can choose between two mononucleosis tests: the monospot test and the EBV antibody test. For the monospot test, a physician mixes a patient's blood sample with the tissue of a horse and guinea pig. If the red blood cells from the patient group toward the guinea pig tissue, the test is positive. Used only after a patient develops symptoms, the monospot test is generally 90% accurate; false negatives can occur, especially in small children.

The EBV antibody test is regarded as a backup if the monospot test comes back negative. A physician may run the EBV antibody test simultaneously with other tests to diagnose conditions with similar symptoms to mono. The test also involves taking blood. The test measures the presence of antibodies, proteins the body specifically makes during infection with EBV. Though the test takes longer to produce a result, its value lies in its ability to diagnose infection even after symptoms have cleared up; those with a recent infection will still want to refrain from strenuous activity as the virus can affect the liver as well as the spleen.

A value that both mononucleosis tests share is their role in limiting future infection. Mono is extremely infectious, and if a patient knows that he or she has contracted the virus, he or she can avoid infecting others during a period of rest at home. Also, a positive result on mononucleosis tests prompts a physician to monitor for the development of any of the condition's serious side effects.

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