Why Is Mono Called the Kissing Disease?

Britt Archer

The phrase “kissing disease” has a benign ring to it, but mononucleosis is far from benign. It’s a disease that can make a person feel awful with extreme tiredness, enlarged lymph nodes, a sore throat, body aches and fever. Mononucleosis, commonly referred to as "mono," is called the kissing disease because it is spread through contact with an infected person’s saliva. Kissing is one way to catch the kissing disease, but it’s not the only way. Mono can be spread by sharing such things as lip gloss, drinking glasses, pillows, utensils, food, water bottles, toothbrushes and straws.

A sore throat is a symptom of mononucleosis.
A sore throat is a symptom of mononucleosis.

A person might think he or she can safely share these items with a friend who doesn’t appear sick, but the risk is still present. A person can have mono, and spread it to someone, else without feeling or looking ill. The kissing disease, as its name implies, is contagious, and it can be spread by people who aren’t even aware they have been infected. It cannot spread outside of the presence of saliva, and is not carried by blood or through the air.

Mono gets its nickname because people can pass the disease to others through kissing.
Mono gets its nickname because people can pass the disease to others through kissing.

Epstein-Barr is the name of the virus that causes mononucleosis, and it sometimes referred to as EBV. It is loosely related to the viruses that cause chickenpox and cold sores because they all belong in the herpes family of infectious viruses. The virus can be present in the body for up to six weeks without causing symptoms, allowing time for an infected person to unknowingly spread the disease. Mono is also sometimes called glandular disease because of its swelling effect on the glands.

Mono can make a person feel terrible for a long time, but in almost all cases it is not fatal. The main treatment is a long period of rest, because symptoms can last up to two months, and sometimes as long as four months. A patient should drink a lot of fluids, and a pain and fever reducer is sometimes recommended. Sometimes doctors also will prescribe a short course of steroids to help lessen throat swelling. Patients, who are usually teenagers and young adults, will be out of commission for weeks, and will be advised to not attend work, school and extracurricular activities while they recuperate.

Mono can strike children as young as 10, and adults as old as 35. Most often, teens between ages 15 and 17 are the target. Residing in a dormitory or similar type of housing can raise the risk of contact with an infected person.

Fever and extreme fatigue may be indicative of a mono infection.
Fever and extreme fatigue may be indicative of a mono infection.

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Discussion Comments


I had mono one time when I was 12, and the worst part of it for me was all of the gossip about how I must have contracted it. Because it was called the "kissing disease", my classmates wondered who was the girl who gave it to me, and did I give it to anyone else. They just wouldn't believe a person could get mono from any other source except kissing. I probably got it at a friend's birthday party when I accidentally drank from someone else's glass. But when I got back to my regular classes, some of the kids teased me about it for a while.


I remember hearing about other kids getting a disease called mono sometime around the fourth grade. We thought the worst symptom was the constant and severe fatigue. If someone had mono, we wouldn't see him or her in class for at least a week, if not longer. Chicken pox and measles were one thing, but mononucleosis was something we all had to take seriously.

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