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Glandular fever (Infectious mononucleosis)
Glandular fever is a viral infection caused by a member of the herpes virus family, the Epstein-Barr virus.
The virus multiplies in the cells at the back of the throat and spreads to the lymph glands, which produce white blood cells to fight infection. It can cause a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes (which become enlarged due to their increased workload) and extreme tiredness.
Most people, however, especially young children, experience no symptoms at all if infected with the Epstein-Barr virus – or only get a few symptoms. This means that many people are exposed to the virus in childhood and do not even know they have had it. One attack confers permanent immunity – so if you have already had a mild form of the illness as a young child, you will not get the virus again in your lifetime.
Young people aged between 10 and 25 years are most vulnerable to developing glandular fever. It is usually not too serious but recuperation may take some time.
The infection is transmitted from one person to another via the saliva. Kissing is one obvious way of transmitting the disease, hence the reason that it is sometimes known as the ‘kissing disease’. However, it is also spread via airborne droplets in coughs and sneezes. A person with glandular fever is most infectious when they have a fever.
Symptoms of glandular fever appear after an incubation period of four to seven weeks and may include:
Your doctor will take a blood test to confirm whether your symptoms are due to glandular fever. The illness can often be misdiagnosed as tonsillitis.
As glandular fever is a viral infection, antibiotics are ineffective against the disease. Because there is no cure as such, treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms of the disease until the virus runs its course – which normally takes a week or two, although it can take up to a month.
Usually there is complete recovery in less than a month. Good tips to aid recovery include:
In some people the disease may develop into a chronic (long term) condition, i.e. – chronic fatigue syndrome. There are also a very small number of people who are unfortunate enough to develop complications. They include:
Complications are extremely rare however, and most people fully recover within a few weeks.
Reviewed: November 17, 2009
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Last Reviewed: 17th November 2006