Mononucleosis: How Long is it Contagious?

September 14, 2018

Mono (also known as infectious mononucleosis, or “the kissing disease”) is a viral infection that spreads readily, especially among teenagers and young adults. In fact, it is most common among college students, perhaps because they often live in close proximity while at school.

Several Potential Causes

Mono may be caused by any one of several different viruses. It is most commonly  caused by infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV is actually one of the most common viruses that infect humans all over the world: About 90% of all adults show evidence of past exposure to the virus. While the virus continues to live in the body indefinitely after infection, it is only capable of infecting others for a limited period, primarily in the weeks before initial symptoms develop, and for at least several weeks afterward, while the individual is noticeably sick.

The colloquial name, “the kissing disease,” hints at the fact that the viruses linked to mono are most often transmitted through saliva. These viruses can also be transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids (including through sexual activity). Simply sharing drinks, unwashed utensils, or a toothbrush could be enough to transmit the disease from an infected person to someone else. Experts believe the virus may remain active on objects for about as long as the objects remain moist. Needless to say, young people should be advised to avoid practices such as sharing food, drinks, or utensils, to minimize their risk of exposure.

What Are the Symptoms of Mono?

Regardless of which virus causes the disease, symptoms most often include:

  • extreme fatigue
  • fever
  • sore throat
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Not everyone experiences all of these symptoms, however. In fact, a majority of those infected will experience no noticeable symptoms at all.

How Long Is Mono Infectious?

Unfortunately, it is possible to transmit the disease even before symptoms arise, during the incubation period. This can last for about four to seven weeks. In most cases, the person then remains infectious for several weeks longer. But the disease manifests differently from one person to the next and some individuals may take months to recover. In theory, they could remain infectious for at least that long. Even worse, experts believe that a person who has apparently recovered from mono may remain infectious for far longer than symptoms persist; up to 18 months afterward, or longer.

The best advice, then, is to minimize potential exposures by scrupulously avoiding contact with anything that may have come into contact with other people’s saliva. Obviously, this means college students and other young people should be cautioned to never share drinks or toiletries. Remind them that hand washing is one of the most important things anyone can do to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

When Should You Seek Help?

If you are experiencing extreme fatigue or any of the above symptoms that last longer than three days or get worse, it is important to visit your primary care provider, or visit PhysicianOne Urgent Care. The medical team at PhysicianOne Urgent Care will be able to evaluate your symptoms, and suggest the best treatment options should the diagnosis be Mono. PhysicianOne Urgent Care is here 7 days per week for high-quality urgent care, at a fraction of the cost of the Emergency Room. Contact us at 1.855.349.2828, or stop in today for a convenient, walk-in visit. If you’re looking to save time, find a location near you and check in online today!

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