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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
A person who has mono is not likely to spread it through
“If your roommate has it, you’re not real likely to get it
unless you’re sharing drinking glasses or silverware,” Elwyn
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.”