Glandular fever (or kissing disease) is the common term used to describe an acute viral infection called infectious mononucleosis. The virus that causes glandular fever is known as Epstein-Barr virus. Glandular fever mainly affects young adults. A chronic form of glandular fever is one of the suggested causes of chronic fatigue syndrome.
The most common age to get glandular fever with symptoms is between the ages of 10 and 35. Only people who haven’t already had it as a child can get glandular fever as an older child or young adult. If you’ve already had it, your body has produced antibodies that fight the virus if you come into contact with it again. Its very rare to get glandular fever twice.
The cause of glandular fever (infectious mononucleosis) is a virus known as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). This is most frequently seen in teenagers and young adults. It is thought to spread in a similar way to many other viruses, from saliva, and is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “kissing disease”, as it is often passed from boyfriend to girlfriend or vice versa. Glandular Fever is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It can be spread by coughing and sneezing or by sharing eating and drinking utensils.
Once you have recovered from glandular fever, it’s unlikely that you will get it again as you develop immunity to the infection. The virus will still be in your body but, like other herpes viruses, EBV can live in your body without causing any illness. Most adults carry antibodies to EBV in their blood – this shows that they have been infected at some time.
The disease is transmitted in saliva (also called the kissing disease) and by aerosol. Some young adults may remain debilitated and depressed for some months after infection. However, reactivation of latent virus is only thought to occur in immunocompromised patients such as AIDS patients. EBV is the cause of oral hairy leucoplakia, Burkitt’s lymphoma, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, post-transplant lymphoma and immunoblastic lymphoma in AIDS patients.
Symptoms of Glandular Fever
At first, glandular fever is sometimes wrongly diagnosed, for example as a bacterial throat infection or tonsillitis. If you are given treatment for a bacterial infection with the antibiotics ampicillin or amoxycillin, you may develop a rash of small red spots.
Infection begins in the salivary glands, which release large amounts of the virus into the saliva. The infection spreads to the B lymphocytes, causing them to multiply, and causing the lymph glands to swell and become painful.
Symptoms of the disease include fever, a sore throat, and swollen lymph glands.
The spleen, which is part of the immune system, may swell up noticeably and become painful. This organ is found under the ribs on the left side of your abdomen. If it is hit or damaged while tender and swollen it can sometimes rupture (burst) and cause internal bleeding, requiring surgery.
Young adults are often affected and the severity and duration of symptoms varies from no symptoms, to developing breathing difficulties (because of swelling at the back of the throat) and other complications requiring hospitalisation. Symptoms can last for months (it is a risk factor for chronic fatigue syndrome). Symptom relief and rest are commonly recommended treatments.
Glandular fever is common in children and teenagers in developed countries such as Australia. It is sometimes called ‘The Kissing Disease’, because the virus that causes it is found in saliva, and is passed on by close contact such as kissing (and teenagers are prone to kissing). The medical name for glandular fever is Infectious Mononucleosis.