The kissing disease, otherwise known as infectious mononucleosis or simply “mono,” is an infectious disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. The slang term “kissing disease” is a reference to the fact that the disease is often passed through saliva, although it's a bit of a misnomer, because any sort of close personal contact such as sharing a glass can cause the virus to be passed on. Activities such as touching a doorknob handled by an infectious person with poor personal hygiene can also cause infection with the virus.
This disease is most common in young adults, being particularly infectious to people between the ages of around 10 and 30. 15-17 year olds are at especially high risk, and the kissing disease is a scourge of high school and college campuses. Many college students contract mono and other infectious diseases when they arrive on campus because they have not been exposed before and the crowded conditions make it hard to avoid infection. This is one of the reason immunizations are recommended for college students, to prevent as much illness as possible.
The incubation period for mono can be a long one. Patients usually feel some fatigue and weakness as the virus starts to attack their B lymphocytes. They may also notice that their spleens and lymph glands in the neck are swollen. Other symptoms can include fever, headache, night sweats, and skin rashes, and the fatigue may persist for months. Symptoms can be low grade enough that the patient simply attributes them to fatigue from school or work.
Fortunately, most cases of the kissing disease resolve themselves, and in some cases people have infectious mononucleosis and don't even realize it. In cases where people do seek medical attention, the doctor can perform diagnostic tests to confirm that the Epstein-Barr virus is responsible, and the doctor may provide recommendations for supportive care, such as taking aspirin for headaches and drinking lots of fluids.
While people with the kissing disease usually recover, people with compromised immune systems should be aware that mononucleosis can become dangerous for them. This includes people taking drugs to prevent transplant rejection, AIDS patients, and cancer patients undergoing treatment. In these cases, more aggressive medical care may be advisable to help the patient beat the virus before it is allowed to get out of control. These individuals should also be careful around college students, who may carry the disease without being aware of it.