Glandular Fever – On the Increase!

“It is estimated 80% of Australians carry the virus that causes glandular fever”

Hi there, I’m Paul E Milne. When delivering First Aid training courses, I come across my fair share of the public, and due to the topic being taught (E.g. Senior First Aid, CPR, or even Low voltage Rescue to electricians), I more than often hear stories of personal accidents and health issues. Recently, in one of our ‘one-day’ First Aid courses, I met a person (early twenties) who had just recovered from a bout of glandular fever. This person describes the experience as life changing.

Known as the ‘kissing disease’ it is far from pleasurable. This acute condition, also called infectious mononucleosis, is a viral infection, caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), sometimes mistaken for influenza, but which can also cause a wide range of other symptoms. It particularly affects teenagers and young adults, hence the nick name (kissing disease), although children are also susceptible. It is fairly unusual for older adults to suffer from the disease; however people who have had the disease may have several bouts of the illness before throwing off the infection. Even once clear of the main symptoms, feeling weak, unwell and depress may persist.

How do I know if I have Glandular Fever?

A blood test is the only sure method of diagnosing the disease. As the virus spreads through the body via the bloodstream, symptoms include a sore throat, high temperature, headaches, nausea and swollen (lymph) glands in the neck, similar signs to those of the flu. There may also be swelling of the spleen or liver and it can cause jaundice, giving the skin and the whites of the eyes a yellowish hue. If these later symptoms do not occur, many people convince themselves they are experiencing an attack of the flu and so do not seek medical advice. In this way, the glandular fever often goes undiagnosed. Researchers have discovered it is not the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), that is responsible for the severe symptoms, but the body’s reaction to it. The immune system basically goes into a hyperactive state, known as a cytokine storm; this is what makes people sick.

Once infected, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) unfortunately stays in the body for life, this is why researches estimate 80% of Australians carry the disease, but not everyone will develop symptoms. Research has also shown when the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection occurs in young adults (Teenagers to early twenties), the chances of glandular fever occurring is somewhere between 35 -50%. No real evidence has shown why some people develop the illness and some don’t.

What can I do to avoid glandular fever?

Research has shown the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), can be passed on to another person (particularly through kissing) even if you don’t have the symptoms, and how long someone carrying the virus is infectious is still a guessing game. Some advice on how to avoid the disease is to avoid coming into contact with the droplets produced when suffers cough or sneeze; this being difficult in reality. Practical advice to reduce you vulnerability to all infections; is to, not become over tired or too stressed, again difficult to achieve with our current life style!

Is glandular fever dangerous, how am I treated?

Glandular fever generally is not dangerous, however it may be weakening or debilitating as it tends to recur over a period, perhaps of a year or more. The illness has also been linked to:

  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • tonsillitis, during the attack of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), but this usually subsides as the fever declines
  • Hepatitis, as a complication of glandular fever, your doctor will monitor your liver function.
  • On rare occasions rupture of an enlarged spleen, if this does occur urgent medical treatment is required

Normally, the only treatment for Glandular fever is to take time to let your body fully recover. It is well worth looking into methods for boosting your immune system; this may include eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and good quality proteins. Drinking plenty of water a day and maybe avoid excessive alcohol, sugar dairy and fatty foods. Visiting a naturopath, nutritionist or dietician would certainly go a long way, as they can help you with your diet and eating habits.