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Mononucleosis (Mono)

Medically reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD

What Is Mono?

Have you ever heard of the "kissing disease"? If you said that it's mono, you're right!

Infectious mononucleosis, called mono for short, is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV is one of the most common viruses around. Most people will get infected with it at some point in their life. Babies and young kids who get infected with EBV often don't feel any symptoms, or sometimes they have mild symptoms that feel like a common cold.

But older kids and teenagers who get infected with EBV are likely to feel symptoms such as fever and a very sore throat.

How Do Kids Get Mono?

Mono is contagious, which means someone who has it can spread the virus to other people. Even though it's called the kissing disease, there are other ways you can get mono. They usually involve contact with saliva (spit). So sharing straws, toothbrushes, or food from the same plate can spread mono.

At first, people don't feel sick after getting infected with the EBV virus. The symptoms come a month or two later. And some people don't get any symptoms at all. So they can spread the virus and not even know it. That's why it's important not to share things like forks, straws, water bottles, or lip gloss at school.

What Are the Signs of Mono?

Mono can cause you to feel really, really tired, but you may have other symptoms, too. These include:

  • sore throat
  • swollen lymph glands in your neck
  • headaches
  • sore muscles
  • belly pain with enlarged swollen liver or spleen (organs in the upper part of your belly)
  • loss of appetite

It may seem like you have the flu or strep throat because the symptoms are so much alike. The only way to tell for sure if you have mono is to go to a doctor, who will do an exam to see if you have mono. Sometimes the doctor will do a blood test to be sure.

What If I Have Mono?

If you have mono, you probably will need plenty of rest. This might mean no school for a while, no sports, and no running outside playing with friends or even wrestling with your little brother.

While you're resting, drink plenty of water and other fluids. You can ask your mom or dad to give you a pain reliever if you have a fever, sore throat, or aching muscles. Don't take any aspirin, though, because that can put you at risk for a condition called Reye syndrome, which can be dangerous.

Some kids with mono might not feel very sick at all. But it's very important to listen to your body. A kid who has mono should tell a parent if he or she starts feeling worse. And if the kid feels tired and run down, it's the body's way of saying more rest is needed.

Kids who play contact sports (like football or basketball) need to skip them for about a month after the illness, especially if their spleen is swollen. Your doctor will let you know when it's safe for you to get back in the game.

Mono usually goes away after a few weeks, even though you'll have to take it easy for a bit. Make sure you wash your hands after you cough or sneeze. Keep your straws, forks, and toothbrushes to yourself, and… no kissing for a few months!

Medically reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: June 2023