Mononucleosis, also known as glandular fever or just simply "mono," is one of the most commonly overlooked human conditions. Statistics show that a large part of the American population has been affected by mononucleosis in a subclinical form during childhood, and a considerable amount will contract this illness during adolescence or adulthood.1
What Is the Epstein-Barr Virus?
The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which is one of the leading causes of mononucleosis, is notorious for causing numerous health conditions that affect various body systems.
While the virus is contagious, it cannot be transmitted through the air. There has to be a direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, which means that it could be passed on through kissing, sharing drinks or food or using the same utensils. The most active transmission often happens in adults 30 to 50 days after infection, and 20 to 14 days in children.
EBV was discovered in 1964 and was observed to be the first virus that increases a person's susceptibility to cancer. The virus' primary action takes place in the body's reticuloendothelial and immune systems.
Upon contact with the EBV virus, B-lymphocytes are triggered to multiply faster and change their growth patterns.2 This abnormality in the production of white blood cells has been pinpointed as one of the reasons for the development of both Hodgkin's and Burkitt's lymphoma.3
Aside from causing infectious mononucleosis, the Epstein-Barr virus has also been linked to serious neurological complications, with about 1 to 18 percent of mononucleosis patients developing them during the onset of the disease.4 These include the following:5
- Viral meningitis
- Transverse myelitis
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
Mononucleosis in Children: How Is It Transmitted?
Children under 5 years old are usually more susceptible to mononucleosis. One of the reasons is because the first instinct they have when they come into contact with a new object is to put it in their mouths. This opens up their body to a wide array of viruses and bacteria, including the Epstein-Barr virus, which can lurk in toys or other materials that have come into contact with the saliva of an infected child.6
Mononucleosis has also been observed in cultures where pre-chewing food for a child was practiced.. Aside from passing on the Epstein-Barr virus, there is also a possibility that the parents are unknowingly passing on more harmful bacteria and viruses to their children.7
While pediatric mononucleosis is prevalent, this condition does not usually pose a serious threat on the life of the child, which explains how so little cases of mononucleosis in children are actually reported. There are also fewer reported cases because of the mild occurrence of its symptoms.8
Mononucleosis Can Also Occur in Adults
Mononucleosis in adults claims the No. 1 spot in the list of diseases that are commonly transmitted in universities and colleges. Studies conducted on military bases, colleges and universities found a high number of mononucleosis patients in these institutions. This is often blamed on the constant contact between people in these large settings. While it's not considered a serious condition, an acute form of this disease can derail a student's academic or professional life.9
Unlike other illnesses, the transmission and severity of mononucleosis is not dictated by a so-called disease "season." It can be transmitted as long as there is contact between an infected person and an uninfected individual.10
Compared to the symptoms in pediatric mononucleosis, adults' symptoms are more pronounced and much more debilitating. Untreated mononucleosis in adults can also lead to a higher risk of developing other diseases because of the virus' effect on the major systems of the body.11
Adults or adolescents affected by this virus are also prohibited from participating in contact sports because of its effect on the health of an individual. Constant and debilitating fatigue can affect an athlete's physical performance, and the inflammation in the spleen or liver can heighten the possibility of severe complications during a physically stressful game. Upon healing, athletes must also undergo a thorough examination to ensure that they will not be in danger of spontaneous splenic and liver rupture.12