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Glandular fever definition, symptoms, treatment

What is glandular fever?

Glandular fever (properly known as infectious mononucleosis or the Epstein Barr virus) is a viral infection that causes an illness similar to influenza.  It is sometimes called 'the kissing disease' because it is passed from one person to another through the mouth (saliva).  My doctor told me that it can also be transmitted by sitting near someone that spits (minutely) when they talk and the spital lands in your mouth.  The virus spreads through the bloodstream and the lymphatic system, causing the spleen, liver and lymph glands to swell and also causing a fever.

The Epstein-Barr virus is thought to be responsible for a number of diseases in addition to glandular fever including Burkitt’s lymphoma.  It has been proposed as a possible cause of Hodgkin’s disease (a type of cancer affecting cells of lymph nodes).

Site Index - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Definition
Hodgkin's DiseaseChronic Fatigue Symptoms

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms are similar to those of the flu: fever, headache, blocked nose, nausea, mouth breathing, sore throat (you may have tonsillitis) and a general sense of feeling 'out of sorts' (I best describe it as being 'unwell').  The patient may be aware of having swollen, tender glands (lymph nodes) in the neck, armpits and groin.  Less common symptoms include a rash and jaundice.  (I certainly have jaundice and can feel my enlarged liver and spleen.  Coincidentally, last year I was stung by a bee right in the lymph gland, causing my throat to swell beyond belief.  I seem to remember this was about the time of another bout with the disease).

How is it diagnosed?

The best way to diagnose the illness is for a blood test to be done.  The blood shows abnormal cells (called monocytes) under the microscope, hence the name mononucleosis.

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Two white blood cells among
red blood cells and platelets

How long does it last?

The viral infection is in two stages: the first stage (IgA) lasts about a month, although can persist for a few months.  The second stage (IgM) stays in the body indefinitely.

The major symptoms of the first stage usually disappear within 2 or 3 weeks, but for a further period of 2 weeks you may feel weak, lacking in energy and depressed.  Occasionally the lethargy can last for months.

It is thought that certain triggers, such as stress, alcohol and poor diet, can reactivate the virus's second stage.  The Epstein Barr virus was initially touted as the cause of Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, although recent clinical studies seem to have discounted this theory.  

How common is the problem?

It is probably more common than realised, (some studies put the figure at 80% of the population being infected) because many cases are mild and pass unnoticed or are simply mistaken for a mild attack of influenza.  This applies particularly to children.  Children and young adults are those most likely to catch the virus, but the disease is usually seen in the 15-25 years of age group.

What are the risks?

It is not a dangerous disease in itself, but can make you feel extremely sick if it causes hepatitis.  You may have a relapse during the course of the first year after contracting it.  However, it eventually settles completely and the body returns to normal.

The Epstein-Barr virus is thought to be responsible for a number of diseases in addition to glandular fever including Burkitt’s lymphoma.  It has been proposed as a possible cause of Hodgkin’s disease (a type of cancer affecting cells of lymph nodes).

What is the treatment?

Because glandular fever is a viral infection, antibiotics will not help.  The illness must simply run it's course.



* Take aspirin or paracetamol (in moderate doses) to relieve discomfort or pain;
* Rest (the best treatment), preferably at home and indoors;
* Drink plenty of fluids such as filtered water and fruit juices;
* Gargle soluble aspirin or 30 per cent glucose to soothe the throat;

* Explore this site and become familiar with the lifestyle changes you need to make.

Do Not:

* Drink alcohol or eat fatty food;
* Push yourself to perform tasks;
* Attempt to return to your normal daily routine until advised by your doctor (about 4 weeks after the illness starts).

Finally, it is common to fell depressed during the illness and in the recovery phase because you may feel tired and lethargic.  Report any such problems to your doctor.

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Disclaimer:  I am NOT a medical professional.
I am a CFS - EBV sufferer who is relaying some of his experiences and opinions.
None of the information on these pages is to be construed as medical advice.  Please see a doctor for such advice.
Due to the nature of my illness, I am unable to work for a regular employer in my former occupation as a journalist, and have started this Website, it's mirror sites and others, as an information resource and business. 
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Marcus Webb, Webmaster

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