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Glandular fever

Glandular fever is also known as infectious mononucleosis, and it’s caused by a virus – the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

Although you can contract EBV and develop glandular fever at any age, it’s most common in teenagers and young adults. Immunity should develop after having the illness, so it’s very rare to get glandular fever more than once.

Is glandular fever contagious?

Glandular fever is very contagious. It’s spread through saliva transfer, and can be transmitted for several weeks before a person actually displays symptoms.

To reduce your risk of catching glandular fever:

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Avoid kissing anyone who has symptoms of glandular fever
  • Avoid sharing food, drink, cutlery, face cloths and towels with someone infected with the virus

Symptoms of glandular fever

  • Temperature
  • Swollen, enlarged lymph nodes (glands)
  • Sore throat
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Aching body
  • Inflamed tonsils

It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between glandular fever and tonsillitis. A GP can organise a blood test to diagnose glandular fever if needed.

Treatment for glandular fever

Antibiotics do not work to treat glandular fever. It’s caused by a virus, and so resolves on its own – usually all acute symptoms resolve within 2-3 weeks.

But unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for the fatigue that comes with glandular fever to persist for several months after the infection itself has resolved.

The best glandular fever treatment is simply supportive care. Try to:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Eat nutritious food
  • Drink plenty of fluids – water is best
  • Gargle salt or aspirin for a sore throat
  • Use over the counter medications like paracetamol and/or ibuprofen to reduce pain or temperature

In some cases of glandular fever the spleen can enlarge. To protect the spleen, it’s recommended to avoid contact sports or other activities where the spleen could be damaged by a forceful impact to the abdomen. This is the case for the first four weeks of the illness.

When to see a GP

  • If you have difficulty breathing
  • If you have difficulty swallowing fluids
  • If you develop pain or tenderness in your abdomen
Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi