May 022004
 
Authors: Amy Resseguie

When Matt Linn woke up sick one morning in early April, he had

no idea what was causing him to feel ill.

Linn, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, said he had a

bad head cold and trouble breathing.

After five days of doctor visits and medicines for both cold

symptoms and strep throat, the blood tests came back positive: Linn

had mono.

The diagnosis came as a shock.

“There was no reason I should have mono, as far as I knew, so it

was as far from my personal diagnosis as (what) it could have

been,” Linn said.

Symptoms and Complications

Infectious mononucleosis, or mono, is a virus transmitted

through saliva and mucus and is most common among high school- and

college-aged students, according to the Food and Drug

Administration’s Web site, www.fda.gov.

Mono brings high fevers, up to 103 degrees Fahrenheit, a

generally tired and achy feeling and often a sore throat, which can

develop into tonsillitis. Other common symptoms include swollen

glands in the neck, armpits and groin, and appetite loss.

One in five mono patients also develops a pink, measles-like

rash. Blood tests are required to determine if an illness is mono

or something similar, such as strep.

Linn said mono gave him tonsillitis.

“My tonsils had swollen my throat almost completely shut, so I

couldn’t breathe,” he said. “(The doctors) told me to rest, and

they gave me steroids to heal the damage to my tonsils and Vicodin

so I could swallow and eat.”

Dr. Laurie Elwyn, medical director at Hartshorn Health Service,

said mono is a fairly common disease on campus and that most

students do not know where they contracted it. “We always see a lot

of mono, especially in the winter and spring,” Elwyn said.

Elwyn said the most dangerous aspect of mono is that the spleen

is often enlarged. If people engage in too much physical activity,

they risk getting hit and rupturing their spleen.

“Students are usually pretty active, so we have to restrict

their activities,” she said.

Too Tired

For many students, the concern with mono is the amount of time

in which they are too exhausted to go to class, work and other

activities. Linn said he missed almost two weeks of classes while

he was sick.

Paul Klinger, a freshman business administration student, was

diagnosed with mono after Spring Break.

“I didn’t go to class for a week except for Japanese – I had to

do a presentation,” he said.

Elwyn said the length of the disease varies.

“Some students drop out of school for a semester and go home to

rest, others don’t ever come in (to a doctor),” she said. “The norm

is that you’re kind of sick for a couple of weeks and run

down.”

Even after the worst of the symptoms have abated, most people

with mono will be tired and worn out for up to three months,

according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web

site, www.cdc.gov.

While Linn and Klinger are no longer sick, both said they still

feel tired sometimes.

Linn said he recovered very quickly but that while he was sick,

he couldn’t concentrate on anything. “Nothing else matters when

you’re in a mono-induced sleep,” he said. “Nothing matters.”

Klinger said he is not sure if his exhaustion is from the mono

or from his habit of not getting much sleep. Overall, though, he

said he feels fine.

Contagious?

According to the FDA, infectious mononucleosis is caused by two

viruses: the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which is responsible for

approximately 85 percent of mono cases, and the cytomegalovirus

(CMV).

The viruses have an incubation period of roughly four to six

weeks, and in that time, people can spread the virus before they

realize they are sick.

Additionally, once a person has mono, he or she will carry the

virus for life. Occasional recurrences are possible, and although

that person will not likely have mono again, he or she can spread

the virus to others during those recurrences.

However, both EBV and CMV are very common and approximately 85

to 90 percent of Americans have contracted one or both of the

viruses by age 40. The older a person is when he or she contracts

the virus, the more likely that person is to develop full-blown

mono.

The majority of the population comes into contact with EBV or

CMV as children. This exposure allows a person’s immune system to

develop antibodies so when that person is exposed later in life, he

or she will not develop mono symptoms.

According to the CDC, it is for this reason that most people who

are exposed to mono are not at risk for developing the disease.

Mono is spread through saliva and mucus, which is how it gets

the nickname the “kissing disease.” This transmission can also

occur through sharing drinks and silverware and occasionally

through a sneeze or cough, if the infected person is close

enough.

A person who has mono is not likely to spread it through

everyday contact.

“If your roommate has it, you’re not real likely to get it

unless you’re sharing drinking glasses or silverware,” Elwyn

said.

For these reasons, the CDC advises that people not worry too

much about catching mono. “No special precautions or isolation

procedures are recommended, since the virus is also found

frequently in the saliva of healthy people,” the CDC Web site

states. “In fact, many healthy people can carry and spread the

virus intermittently for life … for this reason, transmission of

the virus is almost impossible to prevent.”

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