The word "mono" is enough to send shudders through a college dorm. The contagious bug can derail an entire quarter of studies and its reputation as a "kissing disease" horrifies patients' boyfriends or girlfriends who figure they'll be next. The truth is, 95 percent of the population contracts mononucleosis before they turn 40; many get it so young and the cases are so mild, they don't even know they had it.
But kids who get mono in college? They know all right!
What Is Mono?
Mono is a lay term for a systemic, febrile illness caused by one of two viruses: the common Epstein-Barr virus or the considerably more rare Cytomegalovirus or CMV. The “mono” in the name merely means that the disease affects lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell with a single - or mono - lobed nucleus.
It passes by touch - hence the famous kissing connection - and its severity varies from person to person, flattening them for a few days or weeks or even months. Most of the symptoms are vague - fatigue, headache and swollen glands. But an extremely sore throat is the giveaway. Some teens and young adults get mono in combination with other problems, including pneumonia and strep. (If your child is taking antibiotics for another ailment and breaks out in a full body rash, get him tested for mono.)
There is nothing that can be done to prevent the disease beyond the usual healthy tips to stay healthy: plenty of sleep, a healthy diet and good hygiene.
If your child contracts mono, the treatment is rest as the virus works its way through the system, which takes time. Medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may ease symptoms. A dose of steroids is a last resort to alleviate inflammation in the throat.
For most people, mono is not a serious disease, although there's no doubting the discomfort and downtime that can derail academics.
Make sure your child alerts his professors to his condition. They should grant extra time to complete assignments and an "incomplete" if that becomes necessary. However, in some cases, the liver or spleen may become involved. If your child's spleen is swollen, your child’s doctor may advise against participating in contact sports to avoid the risk of rupture, which can be life-threatening.
If it's your child's roommate, boyfriend or girlfriend who has mono, there's no need to panic. However, your child should wash his hands frequently and refrain from sharing drinks or food as well as cups and toothbrushes. (Avoiding kissing seems like a good idea too!) Eating properly, taking a multivitamin and getting enough sleep can also help to keep the immune system functioning well. Mono can also affect the liver, so it's a good idea to refrain from alcohol during the illness and for the next couple months.