Also known as:
Glandular fever is a viral infection that is most common in teens and young adults.
Patients normally have very sore throats, swollen glands around their necks and intense fatigue.
This fatigue can last anywhere from a couple of weeks to many months.
It’s most commonly spread through saliva, which is where the nickname ‘kissing disease’ comes from.
Most people make a full recovery within a few weeks, but complications can occur so it’s best to see a doctor and get advice on the best course of action.
Usually, a doctor will be able to diagnose glandular fever by looking at the patient and reviewing their history. In some cases a blood test may be needed.
What causes glandular fever?
Glandular fever is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.
After a person catches the virus, symptoms tend to present 4–6 weeks later.
Some people can catch the virus but not show any symptoms.
It is usually spread through saliva but can also spread through mucus (snot), blood and semen.
Glandular fever symptoms
Sore, red, swollen throat
Enlarged glands, particularly around the neck
Large red rash over the body – this is uncommon
Skin that turns a bit yellow – this is caused by liver inflammation and is also uncommon
Some people with glandular fever may get an enlarged spleen. This should return to its normal size in time, but until it does, physical exercise, in particular contact sports should be avoided for at least three weeks after the onset of your symptoms. A knock to an enlarged spleen could cause it to rupture.
Glandular fever treatments
Glandular fever is a viral infection, not a bacterial one, so unfortunately, antibiotics won’t help.
Sleep and rest is important for recovery, but complete bed rest should be discouraged.
Paracetamol and ibuprofen can be used to manage pain and fever. Applying a cold cloth to the forehead and back of the neck can also help with this.
It’s important to drink water to prevent dehydration. Alcohol consumption should be restricted..
It's best to avoid contact sports and vigorous exercise for four-to-six weeks after having glandular fever.
You only need to be off school or work if your symptoms are making you feel too unwell.
Gargling warm salty water can help to reduce throat pain.
How long does glandular fever last?
Usually the virus clears in 2–4 weeks, but some people may continue to feel fatigued for a few weeks longer.
Sometimes the symptoms of fatigue can go on for 6 months or longer, but this isn’t very common.
Should I see a doctor?
If you have a really sore throat or a high temperature that hasn’t improved after a few days, you should see a doctor.
Also if you have:
Insufficient fluid intake (signs of moderate to severe dehydration)
Difficulty breathing or swallowing
Generally, washing your hands regularly and thoroughly is always a good way to prevent the spread of viral infections.
Sharing saliva is the main way glandular fever spreads. You can help protect yourself from catching it by:
Not drinking from the same cup, glass or drink bottle as someone else.
Not sharing eating utensils like forks, spoons or chopsticks
If you develop glandular fever, avoid kissing and sharing eating and drinking utensils after your symptoms begin. You also need to take extra care with washing your hands regularly, particularly after coughing or sneezing.
While less common, the Epstein-Barr virus can be passed on through blood and semen, so using a condom during sex can help to prevent it spreading.
There is no vaccine against the Epstein-Barr virus to help prevent the spread of glandular fever.
Glandular fever symptoms? Tend doctors can help
If you have glandular fever symptoms and would like medical advice without needing to leave the house, you can book an online appointment with a Tend doctor through your app.
After the appointment, your doctor may advise that an additional, in-person appointment is required, to ensure you receive complete care. In some cases, we may require this before administering a prescription.
If this is the case, we'll book you for an in-person appointment at a time that suits you, at no extra charge.
Clinically reviewed by: Dr Mataroria Lyndon
Date of review: 5th August 2021