Glandular Fever- the facts about the “kissing disease”

Glandular Fever- the facts about the “kissing disease”

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Glandular Fever- the key facts about the “kissing disease”



What is Glandular Fever?

Glandular Fever (also known as Infectious Mononucleosis) is a viral illness caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus (or EBV for short). EBV belongs to the Herpes family. Other Herpes viruses cause familiar infections such as cold sores, genital herpes and chicken pox. Glandular Fever is common in young adults and teenagers. Most people will catch it at some point in life, though around 50% will show no symptoms while they have it.


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How do you get Glandular Fever?

It is spread through saliva, or droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air. It is sometimes called the “kissing disease” as it is easily spread this way.

How long does it take symptoms of Glandular Fever to develop?

If you are exposed to EBV it can take from 30 to 50 days for symptoms of Glandular Fever to show. It is also common for people to catch EBV but never show any symptoms at all- around 50% of the time the immune system clears it without a person feeling unwell.



What are the symptoms of Glandular Fever?

After catching the Epstein Barr virus, there may be no symptoms for about a month. Then tiredness and low energy levels may develop. Some people do not get any other symptoms of Glandular Fever, but a sore throat, fever, rash, nausea and swollen neck glands may occur. Sometimes glands elsewhere in the body will also be enlarged. The liver and spleen may swell, causing tummy pain.

How long do symptoms of Glandular Fever last?

This varies form person to person. Many people will just feel tired for a week or two, others may experience ongoing fatigue for a few months.

Is Glandular Fever dangerous?

No, it is usually not serious. Many people who get EBV will have no symptoms at all. Others may experience tiredness, a sore throat, a rash, enlarged neck glands, and fatigue which can persists for months. Occasionally the liver can also get very inflamed, causing a person to feel more unwell and become jaundiced (i.e. yellow skin), and in rare cases the spleen can rupture.

Other complications include viral meningitis, neurological conditions, inflammation of the heart (myocarditis and pericarditis), and in the longer term, certain cancers can be triggered, such as lymphoma.

For how long is Glandular fever contagious?

Glandular fever can be contagious for several months after the symptoms have settled. That is why there is no specific recommendation regarding school exclusion etc. Also, most people probably pick it up from “silent carriers”, therefore isolation of cases is pointless. Once you’ve caught EBV it never leaves your body, but lies dormant in your system, which is the same for many other viruses (e.g cold sores, chicken pox etc). A minority of people continue to excrete the virus for life, and can pass it on to others.


How is Glandular Fever diagnosed?

It is usually diagnosed on the basis of symptoms, and confirmed by a blood test. Sometimes it does not show up on the first blood test, but a follow-up blood test a few weeks later may be positive for the virus.

What is the treatment for Glandular Fever?

As with many viral illnesses, there is no specific treatment and no need for isolation. Rest, fluids and simple pain relief are advised. To minimise spread, good hand hygiene is recommended and an infected person should avoid sharing cups, cutlery etc with other people. There is no vaccine for EBV.

If you have further questions about Glandular Fever, speak to your doctor.

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About the Author:

Aifric Boylan
Originally from Ireland, Dr Boylan is an experienced GP based in Melbourne. She is also committed to innovation in the area of online medicine and health technology. Aifric is a keen distance runner, and plays the violin, but not at the same time…

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