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Yes, older adults can get mono, too

Yes, older adults can get mono, too

Not too long ago a friend of mine was diagnosed with mononucleosis (mono). When I hear that someone has mono, I think teenager. My friend may be so in spirit, but in reality, she is a grandmother.

What is mono?

According to the National Institutes of Health, mononucleosis is a viral infection that causes fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph glands, especially in the neck. It is often spread by saliva and close contact. Known as “the kissing disease,” it occurs most often in people age 15 to 17. However, the infection may develop at any age.

Mono is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which is an extremely common virus. Most people will become infected with EBV sometime during their lives, but won’t ever have any symptoms. Up to 90 percent of American adults will have developed antibodies to the virus by the time they are 40.

When older people get mono, they usually have slightly different symptoms than if they were much younger, which can be confusing for the health care provider trying to make a diagnosis.

Typical symptoms of mono

A chart showing the symptoms of mono for older adults

Mono symptoms in an older person

  • NO swollen lymph nodes
  • NO sore throat
  • NO enlarged spleen
  • NO atypical white blood cells
  • Jaundice
  • Enlarged liver

Often, infectious mononucleosis in older people is confused with lymphoma, leukemia or gall bladder obstruction, or is classified as “fever of unknown origin. Fortunately, the astute nurse practitioner my friend saw decided to get a mono test, just in case.

“For a week before my diagnosis,” she told me, “I felt SOOO tired and achy and flu-ish. I told the nurse practitioner something’s off; I just don’t feel right. And God bless her, she ordered up some blood work and included mono.”

Some people call mono the kissing disease, so of course, I had to ask her who she’d been kissing lately. Her quick response: “I never keep a list of who I kiss. Maybe I should!”

How mono is spread, no matter what your age

  • The virus that causes mono lives in the nose and throat. It can be spread when people come in direct contact with infected saliva, tears, or mucus.
  • It is usually spread when saliva from an infected person gets into another person’s mouth. It can happen if you share a drinking glass or eating utensils with someone who is infected, or it can happen with a kiss, although a brief kiss on the lips is not likely to spread the virus.

When you are contagious

  • The virus can be passed to others for several weeks or months during and after an infection. The virus can also become active and spread to others from time to time throughout your life.
  • There is a small risk of spreading EBV through blood products. If you know you have mono, you should not donate blood.
  • It takes 4 to 6 weeks for symptoms to develop after you have been infected with the virus. This is called the incubation period.

A little advice from my friend: “If you’ve got unusual aches and pains don’t just “chalk it up to old age,” she advises. “If you think you don’t feel well, you probably don’t —find out what’s wrong!”

And if you get it, the usual treatment is rest, rest, rest. My friend did as she was told and thankfully, healed quickly.

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5 thoughts on “Yes, older adults can get mono, too”

  1. I’m 56 years old. I’ve been diagnosed with EBV elevated levels meaning I have Mono, I believe. I’m upset over this I have been sick for two months not feeling right. I don’t kiss anyone and maybe shared a water with someone at one time. How did I get this? How do I get rid of it for good?

  2. hello there,
    I also have had mono for 2 1/2 years, and have had tests at the lab, etc. I haven’t been kissing another person either, except my husband, (who doesn’t have it) I am 63 in August. it is very frustrating, except that I won’t give in to it. Many are running around spreading COVID-19 at this time, so I stay quarantined. If somehow we must get out, we wear masks and use social distancing because I am very nervous about catching that too. Doctors in Canada have not been able to help this virus, anymore than any other. It comes and goes in spurts. I am not a hypochondriac so I won’t give in. Although I have many other problems, I still workout at home daily, unless I just cannot, but I find the mono comes and goes in spurts at certain times of the year. It seems like it is here to stay. Just try to accept the good times and nurture and love yourself during the sick ones! Scientists just do not know it all!

  3. Don’t shit the bed because if you get mono you’ll probably have to sleep in it for 4 to 6 weeks and that won’t smell to good but the good thing is that you more than likely won’t be kissing anyone else to spread it !!! Lmao

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