Glandular fever is a type of viral infection that mostly affects young adults.
Common symptoms of glandular fever include:
- a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above
- sore throat
- swollen nodes (glands) in the neck
- fatigue (extreme tiredness)
Read more about the symptoms of glandular fever.
Glandular fever is not usually a serious threat to a person's health, but can be unpleasant and last several weeks.
Diagnosing glandular fever
To diagnose glandular fever, your GP will first ask about your symptoms before carrying out a physical examination. They will look for characteristic signs of glandular fever, such as swollen lymph nodes, tonsils, liver and spleen.
To help confirm the diagnosis, your GP may recommend that you have a blood test known as an antibody test.
If you are pregnant, you may be tested for other possible causes of your symptoms, such as rubella or toxoplasmosis, to make sure there is no risk to your unborn baby.
Causes of glandular fever
Most cases of glandular fever are caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), one of the most common viruses to affect humans.
Most EBV infections are thought to take place during childhood and cause mild symptoms. However, if a person develops an EBV infection during early adulthood, they can develop symptoms of glandular fever.
Glandular fever is spread through saliva. It can be spread through:
- kissing (it is often referred to as the "kissing disease")
- exposure to coughs and sneezes
- sharing eating and drinking utensils, such as cups, glasses and unwashed forks and spoons
Someone with glandular fever is contagious for at least two months after initially being infected with EBV. However, some people can have EBV in their saliva for up to 18 months after having the infection. A few may continue to have the virus in their saliva on and off for years.
Once you have had glandular fever, it is highly unlikely you will develop a second bout of the infection. This is because almost everyone develops a life-long immunity to glandular fever after the initial infection.
Read more about the causes of glandular fever.
Treating glandular fever
There is no cure for glandular fever. Treatment focuses on relieving the symptoms, such as using painkillers to ease pain and reduce fever.
Most symptoms of glandular fever should pass within two to three weeks without treatment. However, fatigue can last longer, sometimes up to six months.
Read more about how glandular fever is treated.
Complications associated with glandular fever are uncommon, but when they occur they can be serious. They can include:
- secondary infection of the brain or nervous system
- breathing difficulties as a result of the tonsils becoming massively swollen
- ruptured (burst) spleen, which is a life-threatening emergency – the spleen is an organ that plays an important role in fighting off infection (this complication is very rare, occurring in just one in 1,000 cases)
Dial 999 for an ambulance if you have glandular fever and you experience sudden, intense abdominal pain.
Read more about the complications of glandular fever.
Who is affected?
Glandular fever is an uncommon type of infection. It is estimated that one in every 200 people will develop glandular fever in any given year.
Most cases affect young adults between the ages of 15 to 24, although cases have been reported in people of all ages. Both sexes are equally affected.
Due to the improving standards of hygiene in Western countries, the number of cases of glandular fever is expected to rise. This is because fewer children are being exposed to EBV, which means they are more likely to develop the infection in early adulthood.