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HealthInfo Canterbury

Glandular fever

Woman with glandular feverGlandular fever (also known as infectious mononucleosis) is a viral infection. It's caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and affects mainly young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years.

Glandular fever is passed on by close person-to-person contact. This can include kissing, and sharing cups and toothbrushes.

Most people have been infected with EBV at some time, but many people have no symptoms. However, the virus causes glandular fever in up to half of teenagers and young adults who catch it.

It's very rare to have glandular fever more than once.

Symptoms of glandular fever

Some people don't develop any symptoms despite being infected with the virus. People with glandular fever usually have some of the following symptoms for up to 2 to 3 weeks.

Most people get better within a few weeks, but some people can take months to fully recover.

Diagnosing glandular fever

Your GP will usually diagnose glandular fever without having to do any tests. A blood test for EBV can check for glandular fever. This is often only done if your symptoms continue, or if the diagnosis isn’t clear.

Your GP may consider other causes, such as a strep throat or another viral infection.

Treating glandular fever

Glandular fever usually goes away by itself. As glandular fever is caused by a virus, antibiotics won't be effective.

You can help yourself by:

Preventing the spread of glandular fever

EBV is spread by close contact with the saliva or nasal (nose) secretions of infected people. This can happen by touching hands, toys, eating utensils, drink bottles, or by kissing.

People can be infectious for up to seven weeks before they get symptoms, and for many months after their symptoms go away. It's important to avoid close contact with anyone who has, or has recently had, glandular fever. Try not to kiss, share cups, cutlery or towels with other people.

Good hand hygiene prevents the virus spreading. Make sure you thoroughly wash your hands regularly.

Complications of glandular fever

Most people with glandular fever don't have complications. But if they do, they may include:

You only need to be off school or work if your symptoms are making you feel too unwell. People who have had glandular fever can return to work, university, or school as soon as they feel well enough. You may need to start with a few hours at a time, and gradually ease back in, to make sure you don't get too tired.

Written by Medical Liaison Manager, Southern Community Laboratories. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed December 2018.

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Review key: HIGLF-49687