When I was in seventh grade, a girl stopped showing up to my math class. This wasn’t for, you know, a few days, or even a week. I’m talking multiple weeks in a row where she was nowhere to be found. She reappeared for a few days at one point, only to retreat for a while longer. The rumor was that she had mono, and while my memory is a little hazy and I can’t confirm if this was actually true, it would have made a lot of sense.
A lot of us have heard about mono–a disease that will leave you super sick for weeks–but most of us don’t really know a damn thing about it. I mean, how many of you mostly know mono as a kissing disease? I know I did, and sort of still associate it with a teen make out session. But what exactly is mono? And is it really contracted through a passionate lip lock? Here’s the quick and dirty on everything you need to know about mono.
What is mono?
Mono–short for mononucleosis–is an infectious disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which is a member of the herpes virus family. Before you start freaking out, this isn’t a virus that will give you herpes. In fact, this virus is actually pretty damn common and you’ve probably already come into contact with it (by the age of 40, about 95 percent of us do). Mono can also be caused by the cytomegalovirus, but this is less common. Mono produces flu-like symptoms, but it’s not the flu.
How do you get it? Is it really mostly contracted through kissing or what? Is that why it’s called the kissing disease?
The virus that causes mono is transmitted through saliva, which is why it’s usually referred to as a kissing disease.
But don’t get it twisted, it’s not like the only way you can get mono is by making out; sharing cups, lip products, toothbrushes (ew), etc, can also spread it. Still think you’re in the clear? Ha, naw, you’re not. If someone with mono is coughing or sneezing near you, you can catch it that way, too.
What are the symptoms?
Like I said, the symptoms of mono reflect the flu, but mono is not the flu. You might have mono if you’re experiencing the following:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in your throat or armpits
- Swollen tonsils
- Body ache
Some also experience nausea or abdominal pain. Definitely don’t ignore that sore throat that won’t go away; if you think you had strep throat that somehow hasn’t been healed, you might have mono.
What should I do if I get mono? How can I get rid of it?
Sleep, sleep, and more sleep. Literally just sleeping and drinking liquids and then sleeping some more. That’s the only way to deal with mono.
Er, okay, but you can’t die or anything, right?
Complications are rare, but when they happen they can be more serious than the mono itself, especially if you already have a crappy immune system. Mono can cause the spleen to enlarge and, in extreme cases, rupture. Swollen tonsils can block breathing. Mono can also trigger anemia and inflammation of the heart muscles. Liver problems can also occur.
Just remember that these are rare and it’s honestly a lot easier to catch the common cold than mono.
How long does it usually last? Why are people who have mono seem to be sick for so long?
Yeah, so, here’s the part about mono that really sucks. This isn’t like a cold that goes away in a few days with more sleep, liquids, and some medicine. The virus can have an incubation period of four to six weeks. Here’s another dose of awful: many of your symptoms–fever, sore throat–disappear in about two weeks, but the fatigue and body pains can last for far longer. We’re talking at least a month after the rest of your symptoms fade. The hard truth is that it can take at least two to three months for your life to get back to something relatively normal, but some unlucky folks deal with constant fatigue for years thanks to mono.
Obviously being sick sucks, but not having to go to school for a few weeks sounds pretty good. What’s the big deal?
Okay, so we all like the idea of missing school for a little bit, but anybody who has been sick for longer than a few days can tell you that everything starts to get really stressful when you’re missing tons of class. School isn’t going to stop because you have mono. You’re still going to have to take that math test at some point, and you’re still going to have to write that literature essay. You’re going to have to not only rely on somebody else to take notes for you, but you’re also going to be a lot more fatigued and generally feel gross while you get it all done.
And remember, it’s not just schoolwork you’re going to have to deal with. If you’re on a sports team, forget about playing that season because you’re going to be out of commission. Even if you aren’t experiencing major symptoms anymore, doctors recommend avoiding sports for at least a month. Why? You’re not going to be in your best shape, and mono can also cause your spline to swell. Contact sport plus swollen spleen equals potential trip to the emergency room. If you planned to be in your school’s upcoming play? Forget it. That concert you’ve wanted to go to? Nah, not going to happen. Hanging out with friends? I hope you like texting, because even if you felt better, your friends aren’t going to want to risk catching mono.
Mono just generally makes you feel like garbage, and being confined to a bed for a month isn’t as fun as it sounds, trust me. All the Netflix in the world can’t make that fun.
What can increase my chances of getting mono?
Honestly, other than close contact with someone else who has mono, your age is a pretty big risk factor alone. Most people contract mono from ages 14 through 18. So if you’re a teenager or young adult, fingers crossed that you don’t get it!
So, what happens after mono? Does it just go away? Can you get it again?
Good news and bad news! The bad news is that once you have mono, you’re going to carry the virus in your body for the rest of your life. The good news is that reoccuring cases of mono are rare, so if you have mono once, you probably won’t get it again. Woop!
Have you ever had mono? What was it like? Tell us in the comments!