Glandular fever

Glandular fever is an infectious, self-limiting condition which is caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). Although it is infectious, it is not easily spread and usually lasts for around two to three weeks.

  1. Symptoms include fever, swollen glands and a sore throat
  2. Once contracted, the virus remains in the body for a lifetime
  3. Treated by relieving symptoms and limiting the spread of the disease.

To speak to a doctor about glandular fever online, book an appointment using our private online video consultation service. Our doctors can provide guidance on how to alleviate symptoms and aid your recovery.

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What is glandular fever?

Glandular fever is a disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, which is grouped with the human herpes virus. It is self-limiting and will usually last between 2-3 weeks, with an incubation period of 33-49 days. It's spread from saliva being shared, although it's not particularly infectious.

What symptoms does glandular fever cause?

Glandular fever presents clear and obvious symptoms from which a doctor will be able to build up an assessment, before confirming a diagnosis with a full blood count and monospot tests. Symptoms include: a fever, swollen lymph nodes (particularly at the front of the neck) and a sore throat where the tonsils are enlarged (and may produce a white fluid as a reaction to the inflammation).

Glandular fever can be confused with other illnesses such as rubella, mumps, and even HIV, as they can present similar symptoms. However, the monospot and full blood count tests will be able to clarify a diagnosis. 

Who gets glandular fever?

It is thought that around half the population of children under the age of 5 have antibodies for the Epstein-Barr virus, and over 90% of people will have developed them by the age of 25. This is why glandular fever is rare for those over the age of 40, and the most common age bracket for infection is between 15 and 24. If you develop glandular fever, the virus remains in the body. This doesn’t mean that someone will persistently have symptoms, but the virus can reactivate.

Complications are very rare, but are potentially serious. If the tonsils become very enlarged (to the extent that the airways become obstructed), you have difficulty swallowing or breathing, or if you experience abdominal pain, seek medical attention immediately. 

If you would like to speak to a doctor about glandular fever, you can book an appointment to use our private online video consultation service. Having booked a slot at a suitable time for you, our prescribers will be able to issue advice about managing symptoms of glandular fever, and help you to ascertain whether tests are needed for a diagnosis.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Diagnosis and treatment

How is glandular fever diagnosed?

Your doctor will usually be able to tell whether glandular fever is present by performing an examination, and asking you some questions about your symptoms (sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and a fever). Where required, a confirmed diagnosis of glandular fever can be established from certain tests (a full blood count and a monospot test). 

Will I need tests?

In some cases, a doctor may want to take a couple of tests in order to confirm a suspected diagnosis, and rule out other illnesses. A full blood count will determine the number of white cells in your body; an increase in white blood cells is associated with glandular fever. A monospot test (which assesses the antibodies in your body) can also be taken. However, this test will only be conducted in the second week of the illness. 

What will a doctor normally advise?

Besides general recuperation, there aren't really specific measures as such. A doctor will suggest not over-exerting yourself during the 2-3 weeks that the illness may last, because glandular fever can make you fatigued very easily. It isn't necessary to avoid work and seeing people, but kissing and sharing food and drink utensils should be avoided, as they may contain contaminated saliva. Aside from that, there are no antibiotics or other medications that can be prescribed, but paracetamol and painkillers may help to alleviate symptoms. 

Complications are rare, but a doctor may advise you to be mindful of them potentially occurring (difficulty swallowing fluids, difficulty breathing and abdominal pain).

What treatments are there for glandular fever?

There are no specific treatments for glandular fever. It is a self-limiting condition that will clear within 2-3 weeks. However, paracetamol and painkillers can relieve some of the pain felt in the lymph nodes or during the fever.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How is glandular fever treated?

Glandular fever is treated by allowing symptoms to clear over 2-3 weeks. A doctor will not recommend any specific antibiotics or medication besides paracetamol and painkillers. In order to prevent others from contracting the condition, a clinician will also advise you to avoid sharing kitchen utensils with others, and refraining from kissing, as this will pass on the contaminated saliva.

What treatments are there?

Besides taking painkillers and paracetamol to help tackle symptoms, there are no specific treatments available for glandular fever.

Can I consult a doctor about glandular fever online?

Yes. If you think you have glandular fever, and would like to consult with a doctor about diagnosis and how to manage the condition, you can do so by booking an appointment to use our online video consultation service. Book a slot at a time that’s convenient for you.

Page last reviewed:  12/06/2020

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