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When College Kids get Mono

What to Expect & What to Do When Your Child Gets Mononucleosis


The very word "mono" is enough to send shudders through a college dorm. The contagious bug can derail an entire quarter of studies. And its reputation as a "kissing disease" horrifies patients' boyfriends or girlfriends, who figure they must be next. Truth is, 95% of the population gets mononucleosis before they turn 40; many get it so young and the cases are so mild, they don't even know they had it. But kids who get mono in college? Oh, they know all right.

Mono is a lay term for a systemic, febrile illness caused by one of two viruses, says Mount Sinai's Dr. Joel Forman: the common Epstein-Barr virus, or the considerably more rare Cytomegalovirus or CMV. The “mono” in the name merely means that the disease affects lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell with a single - mono - lobed nucleus.

It passes by touch - hence the famous kissing connection - and its severity varies from person to person, flattening them for a few days or weeks or even months. Most of the symptoms are vague - fatigue, headache, swollen glands. But an extreme sore throat is the giveaway. Some teens and young adults get mono in combination with other problems, including pneumonia and strep. (If your child is taking antibiotics for another ailment and breaks out in a full body rash, get him tested for mono.)

There is nothing that can be done to prevent the disease, says Forman, beyond the usual stay healthy tips: plenty of sleep, a healthy diet and good hygiene. If your child contracts mono, says Forman, the treatment is time and rest as the virus works its way through the system. Medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may ease symptoms.

For most people, mono is not a serious disease, although there's no doubting the discomfort and academic impact. Make sure your child alerts his professors to his condition. They'll grant extra time to complete assignments and an "incomplete" if that becomes necessary. But in some cases, the liver or spleen may become involved. If your child's spleen is swollen, your child’s doctor may advise against participating in contact sports to avoid the risk of rupture, which can be life threatening.

If it's your child's roommate, boyfriend or girlfriend who has mono, there's no need to panic. But your child should wash his hands frequently, and refrain from sharing drinks or food. (Refraining from kissing seems like a good idea too.)

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