Glandular fever, also known as infectious mononucleosis and "kissing disease," is a viral infection caused primarily by the Epstein-Barr virus. Although a person of any age can be affected by glandular fever, it most commonly affects 15- to 17-year-olds. Most people affected by glandular fever develop adequate antibodies to the virus, which prevent future infections.
In the initial stages, glandular fever causes headaches, fatigue and sore throat, which get worse with time. Other symptoms of glandular fever include weakness, skin rashes, appetite loss and night sweats. The fever usually lasts for about 10 days but other symptoms may last for up to two months. A sore throat caused by glandular fever generally doesn't respond well to antibiotics. Glandular fever also causes inflammation of lymph nodes in the neck, which may be painful. Other less common symptoms include chest pain, hives, cough, increased heart rate, breathlessness and nosebleed.
The most common complications of glandular fever include jaundice, hepatitis and inflammation of the spleen. If the spleen becomes too enlarged, it may rupture and require surgery. Other complications include hemolytic anaemia (low red blood cell count), thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), inflamed testicles and heart inflammation. In rare cases, glandular fever can cause neurological disorders, such as, Bell's palsy, ataxia (loss of muscle control), seizures, meningitis, and Guillain-Barre syndrome (muscle weakness). People who have extremely weak immune systems (such as HIV/AIDS patients) may be at a risk of developing life-threatening complications.
Since glandular fever causes the spleen to become enlarged, there is a risk that physical activity might put pressure on the spleen, causing it to rupture. Most people suffer from fatigue for two to three months and find it hard to return to a normal state of physical activity. If they engage in physical activity too soon after the infection, there is a chance the glandular fever might return. Doctors advise a couple of weeks of rest even after all the symptoms have receded.
There is no particular treatment for glandular fever. Antibiotics, antiviral medication and steroid therapy are ineffective in the treatment of glandular fever. Treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms and includes bed rest, ample intake of fluids and gargling with saltwater. Painkillers and fever medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can also help.
Glandular fever is also called "kissing disease" because it is transmitted through saliva. Patients should avoid physical contact with other people and use separate utensils for food and drink. Glandular fever is contagious but not as contagious as the common cold.