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Glandular fever, also known as infectious mononucleosis, is a viral infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, a type of herpes virus. It usually affects young adults, but can infect people of any age. Common signs and symptoms of glandular fever include loss of appetite, sore throat, headache, nausea, fever, swollen tonsils, and swollen glands, especially in the neck and armpits. Most of the symptoms of glandular fever clear up in a few weeks, but a general lack of energy and a sense of fatigue can linger for many weeks, even months, after the initial infection. In severe cases, glandular fever symptoms can include an enlarged spleen, an enlarged liver, and very rarely secondary infections like pneumonia, meningitis, and inflammation of the heart.
This infection is spread by close contact, usually via saliva, either by kissing or by sharing items like toys, cups, bottles, utensils, or cigarettes. It can take four to seven weeks after infection occurs for symptoms of glandular fever to develop. Half of those infected do not develop any symptoms at all, but can still transmit the virus to others. The early symptoms of glandular fever, like sore throat and fever, usually improve within two weeks, but the fatigue and swollen lymph nodes can take as long as a few months to clear up. Ten percent of sufferers experience fatigue for longer than six months after the onset of the first symptoms of glandular fever.
Mild inflammation of the liver is one symptom of glandular fever, and contributes to the nausea and loss of appetite sufferers often experience. Liver inflammation can also cause problems metabolizing fatty foods and alcohol. Jaundice is a more common symptom of glandular fever in adults over age 30 than in children and young adults, and is caused by a more severe inflammation of the liver.
Very rarely, glandular fever can lead to a ruptured spleen. Symptoms of a ruptured spleen are sudden, sharp abdominal pain; it is important to seek medical attention immediately. A common cause is that a patient has returned to vigorous activity before the infection has completely cleared up. One should wait at least a month after the onset of the first symptoms of glandular fever before resuming normal activities.
Those suffering from glandular fever should get lots of rest and drink lots of fluids. Over-the-counter fever and pain medications can also help relieve symptoms of glandular fever. Gargling with saltwater or using lozenges that ease the pain of a sore throat can also provide relief.