Glandular fever, Monospot or Epstein Barr at D2 Medical is a type of viral infection that mostly affects young adults. Common symptoms of glandular fever include:
- a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above
- sore throat
- swollen nodes (glands) in the neck
- fatigue (extreme tiredness)
Glandular fever is not usually a serious threat to a person’s health, but it is an illness that can last for several weeks, and it can be unpleasant.
Most cases of glandular fever are caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), one of the most common viruses to affect humans.
Most EBV infections are thought to take place during childhood and causes very mild symptoms. However, if a person develops an EBV infection during early adulthood, they can develop the symptoms of glandular fever.
Glandular fever is spread through saliva. It can be spread through:
- kissing – it is often referred to as the ‘kissing disease’
- exposure to coughs and sneezes
- sharing eating and drinking utensils, such as cups, glasses and unwashed forks and spoons
Someone with glandular fever is contagious for at least two months after initially being infected with EBV. However, some people can have EBV in their saliva for up to 18 months after having the infection. A few may continue to have the virus in their saliva on and off for years.
Once you have had glandular fever, it is highly unlikely that you will develop a second bout of the infection. This is because almost everyone develops a life-long immunity to glandular fever after the initial infection.
There is no cure for glandular fever. Treatment focuses on helping to relieve the symptoms, such as using painkillers, to reduce the symptoms of pain and fever.
The majority of the symptoms of glandular fever should pass within two to three weeks without treatment. However, the symptoms of fatigue can sometimes last longer.
In most people, the symptoms of fatigue will resolve after three months, although around 1 in 10 people will experience fatigue for up to six months.
Complications associated with glandular fever are uncommon, but when they occur they can be serious. They can include:
- secondary infection of the brain or nervous system
- breathing difficulties as a result of the tonsils becoming massively swollen
- ruptured (burst) spleen, which is a life-threatening emergency; the spleen is an organ that plays an important role in fighting off infection (this complication is very rare, occurring in just 1 in 1,000 cases)
How common is glandular fever?
Glandular fever is an uncommon type of infection. It is estimated that 1 in every 200 people will develop glandular fever in any given year. Most cases affect young adults who are 15 to 24 years old, although cases have been reported in people of all ages. Both sexes are equally affected by glandular fever.
It may initially sound illogical, but due to the improving standards of hygiene in Western countries, particularly where young children are concerned, the number of cases of glandular fever is expected to rise.
This is because fewer children are being exposed to EBV during early childhood when the virus is less troublesome, which means that more are likely to develop the infection during early adulthood, possibly triggering a case of glandular fever.
In diagnosing glandular fever, our GPs will ask you about your symptoms before carrying out a physical examination. They will look for the characteristic signs of glandular fever, such as swollen lymph nodes, tonsils, liver and spleen.
To help confirm the diagnosis, your GP may recommend that you have blood tests. Two types of blood tests can usually help to diagnose glandular fever. These are:
- an antibody test – the Epstein-Barr virus causes your immune system to release certain antibodies that can be detected through testing
- white blood cell test – a high number of white blood cells usually indicate the presence of an infection
Antibodies and immunoglobins are proteins in the blood. They are produced by the immune system to fight against bacteria, viruses and disease.
During a blood test a sample of blood is taken from a vein using a needle, so it can be examined in a laboratory.
A high temperature, also known as a fever is when someone’s body temperature goes above the normal 37°C (98.6°F).
Lymph nodes are small oval tissues that remove unwanted bacteria and particles from the body. They are part of the immune system.