Ask Emily

30 11 2011

Can you have mono more than once?

Mononucleosis, known as the “kissing disease” in my youth, is a viral disease that has engendered many a myth. The idea that you can have the nonspecific group of symptoms we call “mono” only once is just one of them.

Unless specified by the virus that causes it, the term mononucleosis is a general name for a suite of symptoms of viral illness. These symptoms include swollen glands, fever, sore throat, and fatigue. The spleen will swell along with the lymph nodes, and even after the acute fever and sore throat depart, the fatigue and a feeling of unwellness may last several weeks.

The virus that is most associated with mono is the Epstein-Barr virus, or EBV. EBV often infects people who show no symptoms, but in some cases, the infection is more serious.

In rare cases, the virus can remain active over the long-term without showing symptoms, and may be associated with several autoimmune diseases. Another possible outcome of long-term EBV activity can even more rarely be certain kinds of lymphoma.

This virus is so common that in the United States, up to 95% of adults in their thirties and forties may have been infected at some point in their lives. In younger folk—teens and children—exposure results in symptoms in up to half of cases.

But EBV is not the only agent that can produce the illness we generally call mononucleosis. Other viruses, including cytomegalovirus or adenovirus, can cause mono, as can an infection with the protozoan that causes toxoplasmosis.

The symptoms can be very similar, and the only way to be sure that the cause was EBV is to undergo tests to confirm it.

Usually, if you’ve had a specific virus once, your body develops immunity to it, and you’ll avoid getting sick the next time you’re exposed. But given the tendency of EBV to sometimes linger in the body, some people may experience its reactivation, which may or may not cause symptoms. During reactivation, symptoms or not, a person can pass EBV to someone else, primarily through exposure to saliva or other very close contact.

Also, if you had what you thought was mononucleosis but it was caused by a different virus, such as cytomegalovirus, then you can obviously have “mono” again if you pick up EBV and experience symptoms. Thus, the final answer to the question is, Yes, you can have mononucleosis more than once.

By Emily Willingham

Image courtesy of mugley





What Comes With a Kiss?

14 02 2011

A kiss can be a greeting between friends, or it can mean so much more. We enjoy it either way, don’t we?

Health-wise, locking lips can be both a benefit and a burden.

Scientists don’t completely understand why we kiss, but humans are not the only lip smackers on the planet. Animals, including apes, also practice kissing-like behaviors.

The Good Kiss

We get a serious physical response from a good kiss. Kisses cause a brain fireworks show. Sensory neurons from our lips send signals to our brain and body, kicking off sensory sparks, intense emotions, and physical reactions.

Getting to first base can be a huge stress reliever, and holding hands and kissing has been known to lower blood pressure as well as boost our immune systems.

When we get a passionate kiss, our brain oozes a bit of dopamine in the ventral tegmental part of the brain, which is the same region that is tickled by addictive drugs like cocaine. Our body sure does like getting love pecks.

Swapping spit can also help keep your teeth pearly white. Saliva acts as a natural lubricant, slipping under plaque and washing it away. It can even protect teeth from decay by neutralizing harmful acids.

Finally, a good make-out session can benefit your heart. We burn 12 calories for every five seconds of vigorous kissing .

The Bad Kiss

While Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle said, “If you are ever in doubt as to whether to kiss a pretty girl, always give her the benefit of the doubt,” there are some good reasons to put a pause in your pucker.

Kisses can spread germs and infections. One milliliter of saliva contains about 100,000,000 bacteria. And, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), with just one kiss, couples can share more than 500 different types of disease-causing bacteria and viruses.

Not exactly romantic, huh?

Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus and spread by skin-on-skin contact. Flu and cold viruses can be shared lover-to-lover through necking. Also, mononucleosis, heralded as the kissing disease “mono” is easily spread through a good French kiss, as well as by sharing food, a cup, utensils or straws with an infected person.

With a sloppy kiss, we pass on the bacteria that cause cavities. This can also happen when a parent sucks on a child’s pacifier or eating utensil with their mouth.

We don’t need to get worked up about this, but it’s good to know that along with fireworks can come cavities.

As your thoughts turn to love on this Valentine’s Day, consider Shakespeare’s words: “I can express no kinder sign of love, than this kind kiss.”

Smooch on, dear readers, smooch on!