Mononucleosis: Symptoms, Causes, And Diagnosis

4 minute read

Mononucleosis, also known as mono or “the kissing disease,” can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and can last way too long. In order to steer clear of mono, or keep your mono under control, it’s important to learn its causes and symptoms. But while mono can be a huge burden, you still shouldn’t be afraid to get your kiss on!

What is mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis, colloquially referred to as “mono” or the “kissing disease,” is a group of symptoms caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), though it can be caused by other viruses as well. It is spread through saliva with an incubation period of four to eight weeks. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, sore throat, pain, and swollen lymph nodes. Because most adults have developed antibodies against EBV, teens are more susceptible to mono.

Is mono dangerous?

Mono isn’t generally dangerous and symptoms tend to be pretty mild. That said, if you notice any one of your symptoms becoming more severe, see a doctor. While mono isn’t typically serious, it can cause complications that can potentially make it dangerous. In rare cases, for example, you can get a ruptured spleen and this can be fatal if not attended to by a doctor.

How do you get mono?

Mono is also known as the “kissing disease” for good reason — it spreads through saliva, so you can get it from kissing. You can also get it by sharing dishes with someone who has mono, or if that person coughs or sneezes on you. That said, mono is not as contagious as many other infections.

How contagious is mono?

While mono isn’t as easy to catch as the common cold, mono is still contagious. You can get it by coming into contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, such as their saliva or blood. It can also spread through a sneeze or cough, or by sharing food or drinks with an infected person. A person with mono can be contagious for up to 18 months.

What does mono feel like / Do I have mono?

If you feel tired all the time, have a sore throat and a fever, are feeling pain, and notice a rash, yellow-tinged skin, and a loss of appetite, you might have mono. You may experience all of these symptoms of some combination of them. See a doctor to confirm whether or not you have mono.

How do you know if you have mono/symptoms of mononucleosis?

There are a few symptoms of mononucleosis that might tell you that you have mono. Four to seven weeks after exposure, you may experience some combination of fatigue, skin rash, sore throat, jaundice, fever, pain, swollen lymph nodes, or a loss of appetite.  

See a doctor if any of these symptoms are particularly severe, or if they persist for more than 10 days. You should also see a doctor if you have a sore throat for more than two days. It’s important to rule out other potential illnesses causing the symptoms.

How long does mono last?

Mono can last up to two months. You may experience symptoms four to seven weeks after exposure. Symptoms — fatigue, sore throat, loss of appetite, jaundice, pain, swollen lymph nodes, skin rash — can last one to four weeks. If you have mono, you can be contagious for three months after your symptoms stop. In fact, you could be contagious for up to 18 months, so don’t do any saliva-swapping until you know you’re safe.

While mono can be a massive inconvenience, if kept under control and monitored, it isn’t dangerous. But, of course, it’s best to never get mono in the first place, which is why it’s important to steer clear of infected bodily fluids and to monitor any symptoms you think you might be experiencing. While you should stay safe and aware, it’s also important to have fun and enjoy swapping saliva when the opportunity arises!

Louise Bourchier, MPH

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Louise Bourchier is a sex educator and sex researcher with 8 years experience in the field. She teaches about sexual health, sexual pleasure, and communication in relationships through workshops, live-streams, and with written content. Using a sex-positive approach, a dash of humour, and bag full of fun props, Louise’s style of sex education for adults is not what you got in high school! Since 2011 she has taught over a hundred workshops to a wide range of audiences, from university students, to refugees, to medical professionals, to adult store clientele. She has a Masters of Public Health, and is currently a PhD candidate.

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