Kissing Disease Or Infectious Mononucleosis — What You Need To Know

infectious mononucleosis or kissing disease

Think twice the next time you take a bite of your friend’s burger or a sip of your friend’s drink because it can cause the kissing disease. Wondering how? 

Well, infectious mononucleosis (IM) or kissing disease is an infection caused by the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), which can spread through saliva. Though IM or mono is typically caused by the EBV, it can also be caused by other viruses such as cytomegalovirus (CMV), adenovirus, hepatitis virus and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). But, remember the name is a bit misleading because the virus can not only spread by kissing but also by any exchange of saliva.

So if you share a bite of food or if your friend sneezes when you are around, there are chances of contracting the infection. Here is what you need to know about IM and why it is called as “kissing disease”.

What causes mononucleosis?

EBV belongs to the family of the herpes virus. It is transmitted via bodily fluids. The most common way of transmission is through saliva. This means that kissing an infected person can increase the chance of spreading the condition. Hence, the name kissing disease.

The virus can also spread if you share food or drinks or if through a sneeze. Hence, if a person infected with the virus shares a fork or a spoon, the chances of getting infected is high.

Moreover, the virus can spread through blood and semen. Although the risk of transmission is low through these methods, it is still possible to get mono through sexual contact or blood transfusion.

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Is Mono deadly?

Most people are exposed to the EBV during their childhood days. Although the exposure to this virus is common worldwide, around 90-95% people achieve immunity by adulthood. EBV infection among adolescents and young adults is spread primarily by deep kissing, but the cause of infection in preadolescents is not clear.

Typically it occurs in teenagers but it can occur at any age. It is an infectious disease which is mostly self-limiting, meaning it can either resolve on its own or has no harmful impact on the health. However, in some cases, it can be detrimental.

How long does mono last?

The incubation period of infectious mononucleosis, which means that the virus can remain dormant (do not show any symptoms), is between 32 and 49 days. The long incubation periods coupled with the variable nature of the disease makes it difficult to detect the condition.

In some cases, the EBV can be present in the blood and body secretions for the rest of the life without showing any symptoms after an infection. EBV infection can be asymptomatic leading to mild, nonspecific symptoms or turn into a full-blown disease with symptoms such as fatigue lasting up to 6 months or more.

What are the symptoms of mono?

The most common signs and symptoms of mono are:


-Sore throat

-Lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes)


-Upper respiratory symptoms


-Decreased appetite

-Myalgia (muscle pain)

-Skin rash

The symptoms reach its peak around a week after infection and then tend to slowly resolve over a week or it may take up to three weeks. The recovery period can range from 2 months to 3 months, which in some cases can last up to 6 months.

How to manage and prevent infectious mononucleosis?

There is no specific treatment for mono but you need to consult a doctor to treat and manage the condition. The treatment approach is based on supportive care therapy which aims at adequate rest and hydration. It also involves the use of medicines based on the symptoms such as analgesics for relieving pain and inflammation.

As the transmission of the virus is through saliva, prevention is aimed at staying away from the infected person. However, isolation of the infected person is not necessary. Other precautionary measures such as hand washing and not sharing food or water can help.

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Williams-Harmon YJ, Jason LA, Katz BZ. Incidence of Infectious Mononucleosis in Universities and U.S. Military Settings. J Diagn Tech Biomed Anal. 2016 Jun;5(1).

Becker JA, Smith JA. Return to play after infectious mononucleosis. Sports Health. 2014 May;6(3):232-8.

Balfour HH Jr, Dunmire SK, Hogquist KA. Infectious mononucleosis. Clin Transl Immunology. 2015 Feb 27;4(2):e33.

Mohseni M, Boniface MP. Mononucleosis. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2018 Jan.

Dunmire SK, Hogquist KA, Balfour HH. Infectious Mononucleosis. Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2015;390(Pt 1):211-40.

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