What exactly is the kissing disease?
The medical name for the kissing disease is mononucleosis (mono), which is a virus you can pick up from saliva when you have a serious smooch with an infected person. You can also get it in other ways like sharing drinks, glasses and eating utensils. The virus is contagious, but you can actually catch the common cold easier than you will catch mono.
Mononucleosis is not usually a serious disease, and the symptoms can vary between being mild or severe. Severe symptoms can impact negatively on your daily life for up to several weeks.
What causes mononucleosis?
The main cause of mono is a very common virus known as the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) which falls under the herpes virus umbrella. This virus happens all over the world, and people usually get infected in pre-teen years. Studies have shown that it is possible to get infected and carry it in your body for many years without having any symptoms.
Like herpes, it depends on your immune system whether or not symptoms develop. It spreads through blood, semen, sexual contact, or saliva – which has given rise to the name of kissing disease.
Although EBV is the most common cause, there are other viruses also known to have resulted in the flare-up of mono.
Some symptoms of mononucleosis to look out for:
- Serious fatigue
- A sore throat
- Swollen, painful lymph nodes which will need investigation by a doctor
- A skin rash on the face or body similar to that of measles
- Tiny red spots or bruise like areas inside the mouth and on the palate
- Tenderness or pain in the upper-left part of the abdomen which indicates that your spleen may be enlarged
A blood test will check for the EBV, but doctors don’t always require blood results to establish a diagnosis of mononucleosis. The doctor may, however, order an EBV blood test just to ascertain whether or not the virus is present in your system.
How mono spreads to others
Mono spreads through bodily fluids, but the most common way it spreads is through the exchange of saliva mainly by smooching, hence the name kissing disease! You can also get it from someone who has symptoms coughing or sneezing near you, or sharing food with an infected person. Using a fork or a spoon which is still moist, or has not been rinsed, after use by an infected person, can also pass it on.
Research has suggested that at some point in their lives, most people in the world get infected with EBV, which may lay dormant and not result in mono unless your immunity drops.
How dangerous is mononucleosis?
Most people start to recover from mono within 2 weeks, although some symptoms such as fatigue can take much longer to go away. Doctors usually advise rest if the symptoms are not too severe. However, a visit to the doctor is very necessary if you have a swollen spleen, (a vital organ in the abdomen,) which might be likely to rupture if you are pursuing contact sports like soccer, rugby or hockey. These sports will have to be avoided for at least 3 to 4 weeks.
In addition to advising rest, the doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory meds, as well pain and fever- combatting medications in case of a throat infection. Swollen lymph nodes should also be investigated to ensure that there is nothing more sinister lurking about.
You will also be advised to refrain from sexual encounters and heavy smooching until the symptoms have disappeared.
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