About glandular fever

Glandular fever or infectious mononucleosis is caused by Epstein-Barr virus.

Epstein-Barr virus spreads from person to person through saliva. That’s why glandular fever is sometimes called ‘kissing disease’.

Symptoms of glandular fever

Epstein-Barr virus usually infects people 30-50 days before any symptoms appear.

Young children with Epstein-Barr virus can have very few or no obvious symptoms. Only 50% of older children develop symptoms.

When there are symptoms of glandular fever, they come on gradually and might include:

  • a general feeling of being unwell and tired
  • fever
  • sore throat, which usually lasts for a week or two
  • tender, swollen lymph glands, mainly in the neck (and often in the armpits and groin)
  • stomach pain, which is caused by an enlarged liver and spleen
  • red, spotty rash on your child’s trunk.

Glandular fever symptoms can last for weeks or even months, especially the tiredness or general lack of energy.

Complications with glandular fever are rare. These complications include liver infection (or hepatitis), meningitis and pneumonia.

More than 90% of adults have been infected with Epstein-Barr virus. These adults will have antibodies to the virus, and so won’t usually have a second episode of illness caused by this virus. This means that if your child has had glandular fever, he’s unlikely to get it again.

Does your child need to see a doctor about glandular fever?

You should take your child to the GP if your child:

  • has a sore throat that doesn’t improve after five days
  • complains of extreme tiredness, which doesn’t improve after a day or two of rest
  • has swollen glands that remain swollen and/or painful for longer than a few days
  • has stomach pain that lasts longer than a few days.

You should see your GP, go to hospital, or call an ambulance if your child has extreme stomach pain at any time.

Also see the GP if you’re worried or have any other questions.

Tests for glandular fever

Your doctor might decide to confirm glandular fever by doing a blood test on your child.

Treatment for glandular fever

There’s no specific treatment, cure or vaccine for glandular fever.

Antibiotics work only for infections caused by bacteria. This means antibiotics don’t work for glandular fever, because it’s caused by a virus.

You can treat the symptoms of glandular fever. This includes managing pain and discomfort with paracetamol in recommended doses, and making sure your child gets plenty of rest, drinks lots of fluids and eats well.

If your doctor finds your child’s spleen is enlarged, your child should avoid contact sports for at least three months. Contact sports increase the risk of rupturing or tearing the spleen.

Don’t give your child aspirin. It might trigger a rare but potentially fatal disorder known as Reye’s syndrome.

Prevention of glandular fever

If your child has glandular fever, encourage him not to share drinking containers or toothbrushes with other people. He should also avoid kissing people. It’s important to have good personal hygiene, particularly handwashing.

You don’t need to keep your child at home to control the spread of glandular fever.