Sick and Tired

Prior to the winter break of her sophomore year, Cheyenne Sandler almost never got sick.

Then she got mono.

Now a senior at Palo Verde High School, she feels sick for a few days about once a month.

"It was the most miserable month of my life," she says. "And my immune system never quite recovered, so now, every month or so, I just feel really crappy for a couple of days."

Mononucleosis is an infectious disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus to which most people have been exposed and built an immunity by the age of 35, according to a Mayo Clinic article found on the clinic’s Web site, MayoClinic.com.

Symptoms of mono include weakness, fatigue, sore throat, fever, headache, swollen tonsils, swollen lymph nodes in your neck and armpits, skin rash, loss of appetite, swollen spleen and night sweats.

"I had a ridiculously sore throat and couldn’t breathe," Sandler says. "Even after just walking down stairs I’d feel so weak I thought I would pass out, and all I wanted to do was lay there."

If someone shows most or all of these symptoms, they have most likely contracted mono. Dr. Marc Jeser, director of emergency services at Centennial Hospital, recommends that medical attention be sought after a few days of showing these symptoms with no indication of improvement.

Because mono is a viral infection, there is no specific cure. Treatment most often involves bed rest and adequate fluid intake, and doctors might prescribe medication to ease swelling or target other symptoms.

A common misconception is that mono, colloquially known as the "kissing disease," is contracted solely by kissing someone with mono. This is only half true. Mono is spread through infected saliva, so kissing is one way to become infected, but other ways include sneezing, coughing, and sharing drinks or utensils with an infected person.

If someone were actively trying to contract mono, a good start would be simply going to school. According to Dr. Cliff Kahle, the combination of large numbers of people, close proximity, frequent contact and rampant lack of cleanliness makes a high school an ideal breeding ground for a virus like mono. "There’s a lot of contact in high schools, everything from kissing to drinking out of the same bottle of water," Kahle says.

"It’s one of those things," Jeser says. "If you’re in a close environment where people could date one person and break up and go out with someone else, it can spread like brush fire."

Although Sandler contracted mono by drinking out of someone else’s water bottle, many classmates assumed that she became infected by kissing someone.

"I got kind of teased a lot," she says. "I just kind of played along with it though. You know, they can think what they want."

Because of mono’s contagious nature and a patient’s need for recuperation, mono often requires high school students to miss several weeks of school, presenting academic repercussions in the form of mountains of makeup work and missed lessons.

Though on bed rest for a month, Sandler was sick over winter break and ended up missing two weeks of school, returning the week before final exams were given.

"It was really hard to make up all that work and study for finals at the same time," she says. "If you get (mono), definitely have somebody bring you your homework, or you’ll get way behind."

There is no vaccine for mono, so the best ways to avoid becoming infected are to avoid contact with anyone who has mono or shows symptoms of mono, wash hands frequently, eat well and get plenty of sleep.

"Keep your immune system up," Jeser says. "If you’re tired and completely running on empty, your immune system will be weakened and susceptible."

Someone with mono should, to avoid spreading the infection, not go back to school for a few weeks, not kiss or share food, dishes, glasses or utensils until after their fever has subsided and, if possible, even longer.

"If you’re having the symptoms, you’re highly infectious," Jeser says. "If you have been feeling back to your normal self for a few days, the infection has probably lessened to the point that you can resume normal contact."

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