Your child could be taking an unexpected vacation from daycare or school if her sore throat and fever turn out to be infectious mononucleosis ("mono"). Although this viral infection usually affects teenagers and young adults, it can also occur in young children, especially those in daycare or school where they have frequent contact with other people.
Symptoms of mono in young children resemble symptoms of other illnesses, such as the common cold and flu. These include headache, fever, sore throat, poor appetite, muscle ache, weakness, tiredness and stomachache. Symptoms of mono in older children, such as fatigue, rash and swollen lymph nodes, can also occur in young children but are less common. The incubation period for mono is generally four to eight weeks, but young children usually begin showing symptoms sooner. In some cases, no symptoms are present in young children.
According to C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital, the Epstein-Barr virus, or EBV, causes more than 90 percent of mono cases. EBV, which belongs to the herpes virus family, can lead to infection at any age. EBV exposure that results in mono occurs the most in older children between the ages of 15 and 17, according to the National Institutes of Health. Although the virus can cause severe illness in older children, young children exposed to it are usually only mildly affected. Other viruses, such as cytomegalovirus, might also cause mono. The virus enters your child’s body through infected saliva spread by sneezing, kissing, sharing utensils or coughing.
Treatment for mono includes making sure your child gets rest and plenty of fluids while the infection runs its course. You can give your child acetaminophen to relieve pain, sore throat and fever. Cold drinks or milkshakes can soothe a sore throat and prevent dehydration. Give your child soft foods that are easy to swallow. Severe tonsil and throat swelling can be treated with prescription corticosteroids. Antibiotics might be prescribed if your child develops tonsillitis, a sinus infection or strep throat. Mild cases of mono can start to improve in a week, while severe cases can take up to four weeks. Fever generally lasts for seven to 14 days.
Vaccines to prevent mono do not exist. The infection can be contagious for as long as symptoms last or for months after the infection clears up. Small amounts of the virus remain in saliva for up to six months. Your child should avoid sharing dishes, glasses and utensils until several days after his fever subsides to prevent spreading mono to others.
Serious complications from mono can occur, although they are rare. Dehydration, the most common complication, can lead to hospitalization. A ruptured spleen, which causes sudden and sharp abdominal pain, requires emergency surgery. Other possible complications include anemia, obstructed breathing, inflammation of the heart, meningitis, encephalitis and bacterial infections. Seek immediate medical care if your child has serious trouble breathing or swallowing, severe weakness, a stiff neck or severe abdominal pain.