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Glandular fever

What is glandular fever?

Glandular fever is a viral infection with unpleasant symptoms that can last several weeks.

Glandular fever is more common in teenagers and young adults, but can affect people of any age.

Glandular fever is spread through a person's saliva, through coughing, sneezing, shared cutlery and crockery, and kissing, which gives it the nickname 'the kissing disease'.

Symptoms of glandular fever

Symptoms of glandular fever include:

Causes of glandular fever

Glandular fever is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), named after the British researchers who first identified it.

The Epstein-Barr virus is a type of human herpes virus (EBV/HHV-4) and is common.

The glandular fever virus can stay active in a person's body after obvious symptoms have gone, but it can still be passed on at this stage.

Not everyone who comes in contact with the virus will catch it, and having a healthy immune system may allow some people to fight it off.

Glandular fever in young children may appear mild, but it is usually most severe during adolescence or early adulthood.

Glandular fever usually begins gradually with flu-like symptoms.

After a few days, the lymph glands begin to swell, but this may not be visible in all cases.

Some people with glandular fever, particularly those who take the antibiotic amoxicillin, may develop a red rash all over the body. Others may notice red spots or darkened areas in the mouth that look like bruises. In about half of all cases, the spleen becomes enlarged, causing an area in the upper-left abdomen to become tender to the touch.

Most people with glandular fever will feel much better within 2 or 3 weeks, but fatigue may last longer.

The disease can last for more than a year with attacks during that time. However, once you've got over glandular fever, you are unlikely to get it again.

Diagnosing glandular fever

A doctor will diagnose glandular fever based on the symptoms, a physical examination and the person's medical history.

Blood tests may be arranged to rule out cytomegalovirus (CMV), rubella, mumps and toxoplasmosis.

What is the treatment for glandular fever?

Glandular fever cannot be cured, but medication can help relieve the pain and fever symptoms.

With rest and plenty of fluids, most people recover from glandular fever on their own within 2 weeks.

In severe cases, antibiotics or corticosteroids (steroids) may be recommended for complications of glandular fever.

Glandular fever complications

Complications from glandular fever are not common, but can be a medical emergency, including:

  • Brain, liver or lung infections
  • Breathing difficulties from swollen tonsils
  • Ruptured or burst spleen requiring an operation.

How can I prevent glandular fever?

Glandular fever cannot always be prevented, but staying healthy and keeping the body's immune system defences strong may help reduce the chances of developing it.

Other conditions linked to the Epstein-Barr virus

As well as glandular fever, the Epstein-Barr virus can also be associated with:

The Epstein-Barr virus is no longer believed to be linked with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME).

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 27, 2016

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