Mononucleosis, popularly known as “mono” or the “kissing disease,” is a viral condition that is common in young children and teenagers. Mononucleosis is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, a member of the herpes virus family.
The Epstein-Barr virus generally spreads by contact with contaminated saliva. So yes, mono in kids can indeed be spread by kissing. However, kissing isn’t the only transmission method available to the Epstein-Barr virus. Infected saliva can be spread in many ways, including:
- Coughing and sneezing
- Sharing food utensils and drinks
- Sharing lip gloss
- Sharing pillows
- Sharing toothbrushes.
Many of these activities are more common among children than adults. Kids often overlook hand washing, an important part of any communicable disease prevention program. This increases their risk of spreading mononucleosis.
How Common is Mono in Kids?
Mononucleosis often seen in teens and young adults: most cases are diagnosed in people aged 15 to 17. Researchers believe that mono in kids is very common, but as symptoms of mono in kids are generally mild, they are often overlooked or mistaken for other illnesses.
The Epstein-Barr virus is very common. According to the National Center for Infectious Diseases, 95 percent of adults between the ages of 35 and 40 have antibodies that defend against the Epstein-Barr virus, indicating exposure to the virus at some point in their lives. Once exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus, people are immune to further infections and subsequent symptoms of mono.
Symptoms of Mono in Kids
Symptoms of mono in kids are usually mild, if any. Older children and teens are more likely to experience stronger symptoms of mono, which can include:
- Enlarged, swollen spleen
- Loss of appetite
- Night sweats
- Skin rashes
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes and tonsils.
Mononucleosis in children rarely causes complications, unless the child’s immune system is already compromised. In rare cases, the enlarged spleen may rupture, resulting in sharp pain on the left side of the body. Physical trauma increases the risk of a ruptured spleen, so children with mononucleosis should avoid physical exercise until their spleens return to normal size. This can take up to a month after recovering from mononucleosis.
Some inflammation of the liver may be seen in cases of mononucleosis in children, but this usually isn’t serious. Other, more rare complications of mononucleosis can occur, but are usually seen in adolescents and adults rather than children. They include:
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Difficulty breathing due to swollen tonsils
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Inflammation of the heart muscle
- Low platelet counts (blood cells needed for blood clotting)
- Meningitis or encephalitis.
Treating Mononucleosis in Children
Mononucleosis is caused by a virus, so antibiotics are not an effective treatment. Treatment of mono in kids is primarily supportive, and intended to reduce the symptoms of mono. Mononucleosis treatment options include:
- Antibiotics for secondary infections (strep throat sometimes accompanies mono)
- Bed rest
- Drinking plenty of water and fruit juice to prevent dehydration.
Over the counter pain medication may be used to relieve fevers or pain. Parents may also use children’s ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve painful symptoms of mononucleosis in children. Children under the age of 16 should not be given aspirin to treat symptoms of mono, as this drug can cause a life-threatening disorder called Reye’s syndrome. If you have any questions, talk to your doctor for more information about mononucleosis.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Mononucleosis. Retrieved March 24, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mononucleosis/DS00352.
National Center for Infectious Diseases Staff. (2006). Epstein-barr virus and infectious mononucleosis. Retrieved March 25, 2010, from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/ebv.htm.
Nemours Foundation Staff. (2009). What’s mono? Retrieved March 242010, from the Nemours Foundation Web site: http://kidshealth.org/kid/talk/qa/mono.html#.
Stoppler, M. (2009). Infectious mononucleosis (mono). Retrieved March 24, 2010, from the MedicineNet Web site: http://www.medicinenet.com/infectious_mononucleosis/article.htm.