Mononucleosis is basically a mild childhood disease that occasionally affects older folks - teens and adults. When contracted early in childhood, it is usually just another one of those mysterious illnesses the doctor explains is a "virus." It goes away in a few days, and unless the doctor is very suspicious about it because of certain physical findings, it doesn't often get diagnosed in the younger child.

Those findings are usually a bad sore throat with a characteristic creamy-looking pus covering the tonsils, swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, and enlargement of the spleen and liver in the abdomen. The lymph nodes, spleen and liver are all organs involved in filtering out and destroying invading viruses.

If a blood count is obtained, it shows a characteristic increase in the number of virus-fighting lymphocytes in general and an increase in monocytes in particular. Additionally, something called atypical lymphocytes usually appear in the bloodstream in large numbers during mononucleosis. These atypical lymphocytes are very young lymphocytes heading out to fight the virus.

The disease is caused by the Ebstein-Barr virus (EB virus). Sometimes blood antibody levels against EB virus are measured to confirm suspected mononucleosis, although a quicker indicator called a monospot test combined with classic blood count findings is usually sufficient.

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