- Most cases of glandular fever are caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). If you come into close contact with infected saliva and you are not immune (resistant) to glandular fever, EBV will infect the cells on the lining inside of your throat.
- The infection is then passed to near-by white blood cells called B lymphocytes before spreading through the lymphatic system. This is a series of glands (nodes) that spread throughout your body in a similar way to your blood circulation system. The glands produce many of the specialised cells that are needed by your immune system.
- The spleen is an organ that is located just beneath the ribs on the left side of the abdomen. It is an important part of the lymphatic system because it helps to produce the infection-fighting antibodies that your immune system uses to fight infection. If your spleen is infected, it will become inflamed (swollen). This occurs in around half of all cases of glandular fever.
How is glandular fever spread?
- It’s mainly spread through saliva, so kissing, coughing, sneezing, and sharing a glass or cutlery, are the easiest ways to catch the virus.
- It is less easy to catch than the common cold.
Glandular fever symptoms
Many people are exposed to the virus that causes glandular fever but never develop any symptoms. This is especially true of children.
In those who do develop glandular fever, it usually starts like most throat infections with:
- a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC or above
- swollen lymph glands, usually in the neck
- sore throat
- tiredness and fatigue.
However the main difference is the timeframe – while most people get over a viral sore throat in a few days, glandular fever makes most people feel unwell for two to three weeks, while the tiredness and swollen glands may last for two to three months, or even longer.
Other problems that may occur include:
- a fine pink rash on the body, especially if antibiotics have been taken
- enlargement of the spleen (a large organ in the upper left side of the abdomen) – this usually doesn't cause symptoms, although in rare cases the spleen may rupture
- a swollen and painful liver, which can lead to the skin becoming yellow through jaundice.
Most people make a complete recovery.
When to contact your doctor
- If the symptoms are prolonged and you feel unwell or concerned, it's best to see your doctor. The diagnosis of glandular fever can usually be confirmed with a blood test.
- Your GP won't give you antiobiotics. Glandular fever is caused by a virus so they won't work.
- How to treat glandular fever yourself
- There's no cure for glandular fever, it gets better by itself.
- rest and sleep
- drink plenty of fluids (to avoid dehydration)
- take painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen (don't give aspirin to children under 16)
- don't drink alcohol - your liver might be weak while you have glandular fever
How to stop glandular fever spreading
- Glandular fever is very infectious. It's spread through spit. You're infectious for up to 7 weeks before you get symptoms.
- You can go back to school or work as soon as you start to feel better.
To prevent glandular fever spreading:
- wash hands regularly
- wash bedding and clothes that may have spit on them
- kiss others (glandular fever is known as the kissing disease)
share cups, cutlery or towels