Glandular fever (mononucleosis) is an infectious disease which is caused by the Epstein Barr virus (EBV). It is characterised by fatigue, fever, inflammation in the throat and swelling of the lymph nodes. Glandular fever usually heals within 2 – 3 weeks without any complications. However, it can sometimes also last longer and be connected with chronic tiredness and loss of performance.
The disease is named after the man who discovered it, the paediatrician Emil Pfeiffer. Glandular fever affects children, young people and young adults in particular. The cause, Epstein Barr virus, is widespread. It is assumed that more than 90% of adults will have been infected with Epstein Barr virus by their 30th birthday. Infection occurs primarily via the saliva or drops in the air when someone sneezes or coughs. As the virus is often transmitted from mouth to mouth, the illness is also referred to as the kissing disease. Anyone who is infected is immune to the Epstein Barr virus for the rest of their life.
The symptoms of glandular fever are similar to that of the flu or a cold. The illness is therefore often mistaken for the flu, especially in childhood. Besides fever and inflammation in the throat area, fatigue and swelling of the lymph nodes are typical symptoms of glandular fever. The virus affects the immune cells, the B-lymphocytes, which can cause swelling of the lymphatic organs, spleen and tonsils. Sometimes the illness proceeds chronically over several months in adults, with extreme fatigue and loss of performance.
Glandular fever is diagnosed on the basis of the patient's medical history and the symptoms. Evidence of antibodies in the blood against the Epstein Barr virus proves the presence of infection.
Glandular fever is treated symptomatically. The main components of the treatment are rest, recuperation and antipyretic medication as needed. Glandular fever usually heals within 2 to 3 weeks. The fatigue can sometimes last somewhat longer. However, it sometimes takes several months until the patient recuperates fully.