Mononucleosis (mono) is an infectious disease caused by a virus. The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is the most common cause of mono, but other viruses can also cause the disease.
EBV is a type of herpes virus and is very common. Most Americans have been infected with EBV by the age of 40 but may never get symptoms of mono.
Young children infected with EBV usually have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
Teens and young adults, though, are more likely to get mono and experience noticeable symptoms. In fact, at least one out of four teens and adults who get EBV will develop mono.
Mono can cause symptoms similar to those of the flu. Mono is rarely serious, but symptoms can linger for weeks or months. Mono is sometimes called the kissing disease because it is spread through saliva. You can also get mono if you share a drinking glass, food, or utensils with an a person who has mono.
Types of mono tests include:
- Monospot test. This test looks for specific antibodies in the blood. These antibodies show up during or after during certain infections, including mono.
- EBV antibody test. This test looks for EBV antibodies, the main cause of mono. There are different types of EBV antibodies. If certain types of antibodies are found, it may mean you were infected recently. Other types of EBV antibodies may mean you were infected in the past.
Other names: monospot test, mononuclear heterophile test, heterophile antibody test, EBV antibody test, Epstein-Barr virus antibodies
What are they used for?
Mono tests are used to help diagnose a mono infection. Your provider may use a monospot to get fast results. Results are usually ready within an hour. But this test has a high rate of false negatives. So monospot tests are often ordered with an EVB antibody test and other tests that look for infections. These include:
- Complete blood count and/or blood smear, which checks for high levels of white blood cells, a sign of infection.
- Throat culture, to check for strep throat, which has similar symptoms to mono. Strep throat is a bacterial infection treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics don’t work on viral infections like mono.
Why do I need a mono test?
Your health care provider may order one or more mono tests if you or your child has symptoms of mono. Symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands, especially in the neck and/or armpits
What happens during a mono test?
You will need to provide a sample of blood from your fingertip or from a vein.
For a fingertip blood test, a health care professional will prick your middle or ring finger with a small needle. After wiping away the first drop of blood, he or she will place a little tube on your finger and collect a small amount of blood. You may feel a pinch when the needle pricks your finger.
For a blood test from a vein, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out.
Both types of tests are quick, usually taking less than five minutes.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
You don’t any special preparations for a fingertip blood test or blood test from a vein.
Are there any risks to mono tests
There is very little risk to having a fingertip blood test or blood test from a vein. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the results mean?
If monospot test results were positive, it may mean you or your child has mono. If it was negative, but you or your child still has symptoms, your health care provider will probably order an EBV antibody test.
If your EBV test was negative, it means you don’t currently have an EBV infection and were never infected with the virus. A negative result means your symptoms are probably caused by another disorder.
If your EBV test was positive, it means EBV antibodies were found in your blood. The test will also show which types of antibodies were found. This allows your provider to find out whether you were infected recently or in the past.
While there is no cure for mono, you can take steps to relieve symptoms. These include:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink lots of fluids
- Suck on lozenges or hard candy to soothe a sore throat
- Take over-the-counter relievers. But don’t give aspirin to children or teens because it may cause Reye syndrome, a serious, sometimes fatal, disease that affects the brain and liver.
Mono usually goes away on its own within a few weeks. Fatigue may last a bit longer. Health care providers recommend children avoid sports for at least a month after symptoms have gone. This helps avoid injury to the spleen, which may be at a higher risk for damage during and just after an active mono infection. If you have questions about your results or treatment for mono, talk to your health care provider.
Is there anything else I need to know about mono tests?
Some people think that EBV causes a disorder called chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). But as of now, researchers have not found any evidence to show this is true. So monospot and EBV tests are not used to diagnose or monitor CFS.
Courtesy of MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine.