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Welcome Home Mono

Students returning home for winter break could be carrying the kissing disease

By Maryann Pisano

With the holidays right around the corner, both parents and college students are awaiting a long winter break. But, unfortunately for some, students return home with more than the battle scars of a first semester and a duffle bag full of dirty laundry. Many arrive home with mononucleosis.  Most people call mononucleosis by its shorthand name, mono and refer to it as the kissing disease. That’s because mono is usually spread through saliva.

“Because of the close proximity in the college dorms, and being inside more, dormitories are prime locations [for mono to spread,]” assistant clinical professor of family medicine Khalilah Babino, MD, says. Babino, a physician at Loyola University Medical Center, has seen a lot of patients, ages 15 to 24, present symptoms of mono.

According to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, mono is caused either by the Epstein-Barr virus or by cytomegalovirus. Both of these viruses are in the herpes simplex virus family. Young adults and adolescents who are around people with the illness are 35 to 50 percent likely to catch the virus.

College senior Michael Cunningham, who attends the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has never caught the virus but knows people on campus who have had it.  Cunningham was not able to see the symptoms of his peers until they told him they were infected with the illness.

“It spreads like wildfire,” he says. “Mono takes a big toll on your academics.”

Cunningham’s friend was infected with mono and had to leave the campus for two and a half months. During that time, he had to keep up with homework in order to stay enrolled in his classes.

Cunningham takes proper precautions while living at a large university like U of I; he works out on a daily basis and takes 3,000 mg of vitamin C a day.

Babino says that symptoms for mono usually include sore throat, headache, loss of appetite, rashes and fatigue. These are also symptoms for several other illnesses, so Babino advises young people to get a blood test from the physician to know for certain whether or not it’s mono they are dealing with.

“[You can avoid mono] by not sharing a drink or utensils, and by not kissing because saliva is a primary way for the virus to spread,” Babino says.

After being diagnosed with mono, recovery can take a while. Babino says that patients feel better within the first few weeks of being diagnosed with mono, but it can take several months to fully recover. Unfortunately, mono cannot be treated with an antiviral medication, so victims must rest until the virus has run its course. This includes getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and taking a nonsteroidal medication.

While it’s tempting to sneak a kiss under mistletoe or offer your fork to share a bite of pumpkin pie at this time of the year, it’s best to do so with caution—if you can’t avoid it all together. And parents should keep an eye on their student children because while it’s nice to have them home, there may be some unwanted viral germs squatting this winter break.

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