Things I never knew about mononucleosis

I haven’t really “thought” about mono (AKA “glandular fever” in the United Kingdom) since I was a teen and some classmates got the “kissing disease” from playing spin the bottle when we were all in ninth grade. Mostly, I just sulked I wasn’t invited to the part where I could have caught proof of my desirability as well. I certainly couldn’t have told you very much about it, because I have never bothered to look for the information. It just wasn’t part of my world and having been with the same wonderful man for fifteen years it wasn’t something I though COULD be an issue.

I was partially right, but a whole lot more wrong.

At the ripe old age of 43 I have been diagnosed with severe mononucleosis. This, of course, spurred me to do some research in the few hours a day I wasn’t sleeping. It turns out that close to 95% of the adult population is carrying the Epstein-Barr virus that causes mono by the time they reach 35 years of age; most people get it when they are little kids and didn’t know it. It is a bit like chicken pox in that the younger you are the less likely it is to show any  really noticeable symptoms. At worst it looks like a cold or flu and the only treatment that can really be given is bed-rest and fluids. When you are between 15-25 and get it for the first time it can be real ugly, with months and months of fever and lethargy and ‘malaise’ – which is the medical term for feeling like death on toast. Once you get the virus, you developing an immunity and can never get it again – but you can still have intermittent periods where you shed the virus and can contaminate others.

It is as rare as a hen’s tooth to get it after the age of 40. This means, in my whole life, I never swapped spit (which includes drinking from someone else’s glass, as in “let me try your margarita”) when they were actively shedding the virus. My ENT (ear, nose & throat doctor) said that I most likely got it from one of my precious daughters 4 to 6 weeks ago, when it would have seemed as if they had a cold or were tired from a busy day. Since mono can transmit via tears, all it would have taken was for me to kiss a tear-stained little cheek after a boo-boo happened.

Again, like chicken pox, to get it when you are older means the symptoms can be severe. My tonsils were touching behind my uvula and I was sputtering because I couldn’t drink water without it slipping into my windpipe. It felt as though sea sponges full of razor blades had colonized my throat and were plotting my death. My body ached like I had been trampled by a rugby team and I had a constant low-grade fever. At first I thought I had step, then tonsillitis, but when the second round of hard-core antibiotics didn’t make a dent in my illness and my cervical lymph nodes swelled up like ostrich’s eggs I went to an ENT because something was clearly not good. He informed me I had mono, ordered a blood test to prove it, and then started me on corticosteroids. They use steroids only in the most extreme cases, because the ‘roids often do more harm than good, but my tonsils needed to return to some form of normal shape pronto and justified the meds.

Well, praise the prednisone, I can ingest fluids without strangling myself once more. Yay!  I have also spent 40 of the last 48 hours asleep, and feel much better now.

It is only on the other side that I am realizing how much my memory and ability to THINK were compromised by the mono. I have been in a fog – almost like I had a concussion – since mid-January. I could not seem to remember anything and kept thinking I had taken care of things which I had not. When I would talk to people, I had a hard time keeping track of what they were saying and I kept ‘losing’ words on the tip of my tongue. I had to re-read everything I wrote multiple times to sort out the typos or missing modifiers. I was too sick to even notice that I was abnormally feather-brained, even for me.

I am very grateful to be on the mend. However, severe cases can have relapses for up to six months so I’ll have to watch out for the lethargy creeping back.

Speaking of which – a nap sounds lovely right now.

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One thought on “Things I never knew about mononucleosis


  1. Glad you’re on the mend. And thanks for the information. I didn’t know most of this. I had it as a pre-schooler, so I guess I’m lucky. Take care of yourself and enjoy that nap. 🙂

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