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What is the Kissing Disease?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Qohe1et — On Mar 05, 2011

I think that people may tend to be too paranoid about the idea that mono can be spread through kissing. I would think that if someone knew they had mono they would feel the responsibility to cease and desist from kissing people. Most people seem to have at least that level of social responsibility. Mono probably tends to get spread more actively by other means.

By SilentBlue — On Mar 02, 2011

Concerts are also constant breeding grounds for diseases and sicknesses like this to be spread. When everyone is having a good time things can get out of hand and go sour quite fast. If people aren't looking out for each other, but only looking out for themselves and not caring what effect they may have, bad things can happen, and mono can get spread pretty quickly.

By TrogJoe19 — On Feb 28, 2011

Parties can be dangerous places if people with mono are let in. When people are all drinking and getting frisky, people tend to make out. This is what happens at colleges and high schools, despite constant denial of the fact. When going to a party, it is important to be sure that you trust the host and that there are clear guidelines about who is let in and what you will be doing.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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