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What is Glandular Fever?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2016
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Glandular fever, also known as infectious mononucleosis or mono, is a viral infection that originates with an exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or other bacterial organisms, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV). The infection may be passed through direct person-to-person contact and saliva. Though the infection itself is not serious, the potential for complications associated with glandular fever is significant and may include the development of jaundice and liver inflammation. Treatment for glandular fever centers on appropriate rest and hydration.

Commonly known as the kissing disease, mono may be transmitted through saliva or exposure to the spittle produced when an individual sneezes or coughs. Additional methods of transmission include sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils with an infected individual. The viral infection is frequently diagnosed in children and young adults who have not developed immunity to the virus. Very young children who contract glandular fever may experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, allowing the infection to run its course without detection.

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Individuals with glandular fever may experience a variety of symptoms that vary in intensity and severity. Once an individual has been exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus, he or she may remain asymptomatic for up to eight weeks as the virus incubates. A sore throat, fever, and swollen tonsils are the most commonly experienced symptoms associated with glandular fever. Additional symptoms include a lack of appetite, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and fatigue. Those who contract the virus may remain ill for several weeks, so some everyday activities may be restricted as the individual recovers.

A diagnosis of infectious mononucleosis may be made through a physical examination and blood test. Initially, a physician may ask a series of questions regarding symptoms and conduct a physical exam to detect signs of Epstein-Barr virus, such as swollen lymph nodes and tonsils. A palpatory examination may be conducted to evaluate whether the individual’s spleen or liver is distended, or swollen. Antibody tests are conducted to check for the presence of infection or antibodies to the EBV in the blood. An additional blood test may be conducted to evaluate white blood cell, or lymphocyte, levels that may be elevated due to the presence of infectious mononucleosis.

It is important for individuals diagnosed with mono to get sufficient rest and stay hydrated. Antibiotics may not be prescribed since it is a viral infection. If a secondary bacterial infection develops, such as strep throat or tonsillitis, antibiotics may be prescribed. Individuals who experience more harsh symptoms, such as a severe inflammation of the throat, may be placed on a corticosteroid to reduce swelling. Symptoms associated with mono should be monitored closely to prevent potentially significant complications.

Some individuals with mono may experience an enlargement of their spleen, which may induce severe abdominal discomfort confined to the individual’s upper left side. Immediate medical attention should be sought if such discomfort arises, due to the potential for spleen rupture. The liver may also be adversely affected by glandular fever, which may cause organ inflammation and a yellow discoloration of the skin, a condition known as jaundice. Other complications which may arise from mono include meningitis, breathing difficulty due to severe throat inflammation, and anemia. Individuals with existing, compromised immunity may experience more pronounced symptoms and be at a higher risk for developing complications associated with mono.

Since there is no vaccination for infectious mononucleosis available, prevention is the key to inhibiting the transmission of the virus. Individuals with glandular fever should cover their mouths when coughing and sneezing, wash their hands regularly, and refrain from direct person-to-person contact. Eating utensils and drinking glasses should not be shared. The Epstein-Barr virus may continue to live in the person's system for several months following initial infection, so individuals recovering from the illness should be conscientious about taking steps to prevent transmission of the virus.

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