Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Canterbury

Glandular fever

Glandular fever is a viral illness that mainly affects young people aged 15 to 24. It's caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and affects certain types of white blood cells, called mononuclear cells, or lymphocytes. That's why it's also sometimes called infectious mononucleosis.

Most people have been infected with EBV at some time, but many have no symptoms – especially if they were infected as a child.

However, the virus causes glandular fever in up to half of teenagers and young adults who catch it. People with glandular fever usually get better by themselves, with the worst symptoms only lasting a week or two. But they might continue feeling tired for several months.

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

What are the symptoms of glandular fever?

People with glandular fever usually have some of the following symptoms for up to a few weeks. Then they gradually get better.

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


Always see your doctor immediately if you get any unusual, severe or unexplained symptoms, including a stiff neck, vomiting, or becoming very sensitive to light.

How is glandular fever diagnosed?

Your doctor will usually diagnose glandular fever without having to do any tests, because the symptoms are so typical. This is especially so if you are aged between 12 and 25 years old, are not pregnant, and don't have any other condition that affects your immunity.

Your doctor might do a throat swab, to make sure you don't have strep throat, and they might do a routine blood test. Testing specifically for viruses can be very expensive, so your doctor is unlikely to send you for these tests, unless they have to rule out other things that might be causing your symptoms.

If your symptoms become worse or continue for more than 12 weeks, go back to see your doctor again.

If you are pregnant and think you might have glandular fever, it's important to see your doctor. Glandular fever won't harm your baby, but the doctor will need to make sure you don't have some other conditions that have similar symptoms.

How is glandular fever treated?

Glandular feverIf you have glandular fever, it's important to get enough rest – but that doesn't mean you have to stay in bed. And it's unlikely that you'll need antibiotics or any other prescription medicines.

How can I stop glandular fever from spreading?

The EBV virus is passed from person to person by close contact with the saliva or nasal (nose) secretions of infected people. This can happen by touching hands, toys, eating utensils, or drink bottles, or by kissing or sharing towels.

We can share the virus with other people for up to 50 days before we get symptoms, and for many months after our symptoms go away. So it's important to avoid close contact with anyone who has, or has recently had, glandular fever.

Also make sure you regularly and thoroughly wash your hands to help stop the virus from spreading.

What are the complications and unusual symptoms?

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

Should I stay away from work, university, school or sports?

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 just a few hours at a time, and gradually ease back in, to make sure you don't get too tired.

However, it's best to avoid contact sports for eight weeks after having glandular fever, as there is a risk you could rupture your spleen.

It is common to feel low when you have glandular fever, and while you are recovering. If you think this is a problem, talk to your doctor about it.

Written by medical liaison manager, Southern Community Laboratories. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created September 2015.


Image of woman courtesy of marin at

Page reference: 49687

Review key: HIGLF-49687