Intimate living conditions. Increased stressors. Lack of sleep. These are just a few common characteristics of living on a college campus. But they also happen to be perfect conditions for the spreading of illness among college students.
Viral infections are no fun, especially when the symptoms are so intense that they put most students on bed rest for weeks. The most dramatic culprit of all? None other than the Epstein Barr virus—also known as mono or the “kissing disease.” The nature of mono gives it this name, as it is most often transmitted through the exchange of saliva such as kissing or sharing beverages. While other viruses can cause mononucleosis, it is most often the Epstein Barr Virus.
Mononucleosis is an illness that can last one to six months and has an incubation period of four to eight weeks. This makes it extremely difficult to detect in its early stages. More than 95% of adults between the ages of 35 and 40 have been infected in their lifetime. Studies say that 10% of college students get mono, and over 10% of those students continue to have symptoms after recovery for more than six months.
Rhode Island-based Pediatrician Dr. Lisa Haines, says that her practice experiences a large spurt of mono cases in the fall after students return to their universities. On average, she says she diagnoses five to 10 cases of mono each fall.
Mono is known to be a clinical diagnosis which means it has a constellation of symptoms. A patient may experience varying symptoms that collectively come to be diagnosed as mono. The most common and detrimental symptoms include extreme fatigue, sore throat, and swollen glands. Dr. Haines says that “while mono is not always accompanied by other viruses, it can be seen with others such as strep throat.”
Recovery time can vary person to person depending on the state of their immune system. One of the greatest reasons mono is taken so seriously is because of the adverse effect it has on the liver and spleen. Mono often causes the enlargement of both, which entails zero alcohol intake in those over 21 and no contact sports for athletes.
While mono is most commonly diagnosed in teenagers and young adults, it is possible to contract at any age. It was recently announced that Sam Darnold, Quarterback for the New York Jets, is out of play for a minimum of six weeks due to his diagnosis of mono. It is vital to his recovery that he abstain from physical activity until professionals specify otherwise.
Due to the enlargement of the spleen, playing contact sports while carrying mono can lead to death via a burst spleen. However, this is the worst case scenario. Most of those infected with mono recover without a burst spleen and no permanent liver damage.
In addition to the awful symptoms and activity restrictions, mono can have impacts across all aspects of college life. Often leaving students bed ridden for weeks at a time, feelings of depression, and very real FOMO can creep into the minds of those diagnosed.
The social, emotional, and academic consequences of mono are just as real as the physical ones. Athletes are out of practice for weeks which, physically, leaves them significantly weaker than teammates. In terms of academics, being diagnosed with mono can cause students to fall far behind their peers—a result of extreme fatigue. This and other symptoms of mono can make concentration especially difficult for those infected.
Due to mono’s nature and duration, many students find themselves making the trip home or to a relative’s house to seek refuge from the germ pool that is university dorms. Socially and emotionally, this isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness—and in more serious cases—depression.
Dr. Lisa Haines, of Ocean State Pediatrics, gives hope to students infected with mono, stating that “an overwhelming majority of students with mono make a full recovery, the illness is temporary.”
Luckily, it is very rare for the same person to become infected with mono more than once in their lifetime. After being exposed to the virus once, the human body develops antibodies to protect it from catching it again.
Dr. Haines made it clear that doctors want their patients to get out in the world as soon as it is safe. Her best advice: wash your hands, avoid sharing items such as drink or food, and catch up on that sleep!