You’ve had a sore throat for days, and no matter how many glasses of orange juice you’ve swigged down in the caf, it’s just not going away. You’re also super tired, and just don’t have the energy lately to make it through class and hang out with your friends. What gives? If you’re dealing with symptoms like this, you could be dealing with mono, a super common illness that pops up on college campuses every year. Luckily, HC has you covered with this complete guide to treating, diagnosing, curing, and preventing mono!
What is mono exactly?
Mono is actually short for mononucleosis, an infection caused by something called the Epstein-Barr virus. Since mono is a viral disease, it’s an illness your body has to fight off on its own, similar to a cold. Mono is not something that can be killed off by drugs or other forms of medicine alone. “Mono is a virus, so your body knows how to get rid of it on its own. Medication or treatments can't make it go away any faster,” says Stephanie Walters, the medical director of Macalester College’s Health and Wellness Center. “Likely many people have had mono at some point in their lives but don't realize it.” On the plus side, once you’ve had it and have been exposed to it, your body builds up antibodies, meaning your chances of getting sick with mono again are slim to none! Since mono is a virus though, it’s also possible to be a carrier and not feel affected. In other words, if you’ve been around a roommate, friend, or boyfriend who’s been officially diagnosed with mono, there could be a chance that you have it too even if you have yet to feel symptoms.
Contrary to popular middle school belief, kissing a person who is infected with mono is not the only way to get it. The virus that causes mono is spread through saliva, meaning kissing is one way you could come into contact with the virus, but not the only way you can get infected. You’re just as likely to “catch” mono from sharing drinks, touching a hand or object that’s been sneezed on by an infected person, or through other saliva exchanges.
What are the symptoms of mono?
Part of the problem with recognizing mono is that they overlap with common ailments that are easy to shrug off. Many collegiettes who have dealt with mono cite common aches like a sore throat or feeling really tired during the day, which are typically considered to be a part of the college lifestyle.
“I was really tired all the time, which was the first tip-off,” says Jenny, a Northwestern collegiette who had mono. “I also had what seemed like a perpetual cold; at first I thought my allergies were just really bad, but then I lost my voice during Wildcat Welcome… and couldn't seem to knock it out of my system.”
Oftentimes, these symptoms begin to feel more extreme than just a cold or bug. “I know for a lot of people the worst part is the sore throat, but for me it was fatigue. My throat didn't hurt at all, but I felt like the living dead,” says Elizabeth Tompkins, a senior at the College of William and Mary who had mono. Symptoms that linger or seem more painful than they should be are one of your biggest clues that what you originally wrote off could actually be mono.
Another super obvious sign that prompts many collegiettes to get an official diagnosis is how exhausted they feel day after day. “What really made me realize [I had mono] was how unbearably tired I was. I could barely move!” explains Theresa*, a junior at Boston College.
Dr. Walters agrees that some of the most common symptoms are a sore throat and fatigue, and adds that other signs of mono include swollen lymph nodes (glands along the sides of your neck), feeling weak or having no appetite, a fever, or night sweats.
How do I know if I actually have mono?
Going in to get tested for mono tends to be a fairly quick, easy procedure that most college health centers are able to perform. “Getting tested for mono is usually a blood test,” says Dr. Walters. “This sometimes can be a ‘rapid’ test that tells you within 5 minutes if you have it.” She cautions students from going out and immediately getting tested the second their throat to get scratchy, though. “This test is not always positive in first few days of illness, even if a student does have mono, so sometimes we ask people to come back if they are still sick another week later,” she explains.
Dr. Walters’s explanation matches up with what collegiettes have experienced in the past. “I had my results back by the end of the day, and was honestly shocked,” says Jenny. “I was so certain that I didn't have it because no one I knew had mono.”
Kimberly Horner, a senior at the College of New Jersey experienced issues with a misdiagnosis like the ones Dr. Walters cautions against. “The first time I went to the doctor they did a strep test and it came back positive. After I finished the medicine I still wasn't feeling better so I went back to the doctor. They finally gave me a mono test and that came back positive,” she explains.
Dr. Walters is quick to remind collegiettes that, unfortunately, since mono is a virus, there’s not much you can do other than wait it out and treat some of the symptoms like a sore throat or a fever. “Most people want to be tested just for ‘an answer’ or peace of mind,” she says.