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What on Earth is the Kissing Disease?

Everything you need to know about glandular fever a.k.a. mono a.k.a. the kissing disease a.k.a. the worst freshers’ flu of your life.

kissing disease, glandular fever kisses
Credit: Shutterstock/ Al More

Who knew one small kiss could be so risky? And no, I’m not talking about COVID.

For many, glandular fever sounds like the sort of illness that kills off a Victorian orphan in Dickens novel. It conjures images of a fatal epidemic like tuberculosis or scarlet fever.

The good news is that glandular fever is nowhere near as dangerous as anything like that.

The bad news is that there’s a high chance that you have it.

What is Glandular Fever?

Glandular fever is caused by something called the Epstein-Barr virus. Most young people will come into contact with it during their lives and remain symptom-free.

However, about 1/10 of people (the unlucky ones) will fall ill. Common symptoms are extreme fatigue and very swollen glands (hence the name). Sometimes your glands will become so swollen that they puff up your entire face like this girl:

Of course, tiredness and a sore throat is a staple of mysterious freshers’ flu diseases, so how do you know the difference between a common cold and glandular fever?

If the exhaustion you feel when you’re sick tends to be far worse and last far longer than with a common cold. If it goes on for over two weeks or if you are finding it hard to swallow food, it’s time to see a doctor. You should also see a doctor if you have a very high temperature, are feeling hot and shivery or if you have tonsilitis that is not getting better.

You practitioner will then take blood and run a test for glandular fever.

Why Is It Called ‘The Kissing Disease’?

The way you pick up the virus is through a carrier’s saliva, which means that young people, particularly students, who are interacting with many different people are most at risk. Think of how sick you get after the first two weeks of university with freshers’ flu– you’re meeting and talking to loads of new people, with loads of new germs.

Now, by interacting I don’t just mean kissing. You can come into contact with saliva in a horrifically large variety of ways: from sharing drinks to using dirty cutlery (like most utensils in university kitchens).

But kissing is definitely the most common. And because symptoms can be mild or non-existent, it’s impossible to know if somebody has it.

Fingers crossed none of the guys this girl kissed were in the 10% who get symptoms.

Great. I’ve Been Diagnosed. Now What?

If your symptoms were bad enough to get diagnosed, chances are you’re in for a rough time. Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment for glandular fever, so the only thing you can do is wait.

The initial phase of glandular fever with an incredibly sore throat and an inability to get out of bed normally lasts three weeks, so make sure to go back home if you can or at least inform your university about the situation.

woman with glandular fever, kissing disease, freshers flu
You need to rest if you get glandular fever. Credit: Shutterstock/ Svitlana Hulko

Also make sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, rest and sleep a lot and take painkillers like ibuprofen and paracetamol if needed.

In some cases, you will be tired and sick but able to do some work after a few days of rest. Other times, you won’t get out of bed for a month or longer.

Either way, for the first couple of months after getting glandular fever you shouldn’t do any heavy exercise.


I bet you didn’t know this! There are certain situations where it can lead to a medical emergency 😩 #health #doctor #learnontiktok #tiktokdoc #medtok #mono #rupture

♬ BREAK MY SOUL – Beyoncé

You also might want to refrain from drinking alcohol for a while as your liver already gets really weak from the disease. This means that not only will your tolerance will be obscenely low but you can also cause serious harm to your body.

How to Stop It Spreading

You can spread the infection for up to seven weeks before you get symptoms. Nevertheless, once you fall sick you should still try to take precautions. You are still infectious for about two weeks after you first become ill.

Obviously don’t go out kissing loads of strangers. Also ensure that you don’t share any towels, cutlery or cups (no more ring of fire for you, although you shouldn’t be drinking anyway). Make sure you wash your bedding and clothes to get the spit off of them.

dirty washing from glandular fever, kissing disease, freshers flu
You should regularly clean your clothes and bedding to stop further infection. Credit: Shutterstock/ Paul Michael Hughes

Although most people still experience some exhaustion for three months after contracting the virus, you aren’t infectious for all of this time. You can go and throw yourself into life once again, if you somehow have the energy.

It’s Been Three Months And I’m Still Exhausted?

Bad luck. You fall into the 10% of the symptomatic 10% who can suffer from fatigue for up to a year. Glandular fever is notorious for wiping out peoples energy levels for a long time.

The most important advice for people in your situation is to rest and be patient with yourself. It’s not uncommon for students to drop out of university altogether because of the strain of the disease. If you’re still battling through your nine am tutorial and lectures, you should give yourself some credit.

Remember that most people only get glandular fever once in their lives. You’ll likely never experience this level of exhaustion and disruption to your life again.


Although glandular fever is not a dangerous disease, it can have some risky complications to watch out for.

It can cause mild liver inflammation, with warning signs of jaundiced skin and eyes (i.e. yellow-looking). If you are getting red or pink urine, worse bruises than usual, or nosebleeds or bleeding gums, you might have Thrombocytopenia. In other words, a low platelet count- remember plateltes from high school biology?

glandular fever text, also known as the kissing disease, potentially could be mistaken for normal freshers flu
Make sure to look out for any complications when you have the disease. Credit: Shutterstock/ Casimiro PT

Normally a second blood test a couple of weeks after you first get sick will flag these problems.

You can also, very rarely, end up with brain conditions like Guallian-Barre syndrome or Bell’s palsy.

At any point during the illness, make sure to call an ambulance if

  • you can’t swallow
  • have difficulty breathing
  • have severe stomach pain.

Takeaways For Those Not Infected (Yet)

Friends risking being infected by glandular fever, kissing disease, freshers flu.
Make smart choices to avoid germs on your nights out. Credit: Shutterstock/ Pressmaster

You might want to have a second think before you take a puff of someone else’s elf bar, or share a cup with your friends. It could just land you in a year long battle with your health and your body.

Written By

Hi, I'm Georgie and I'm currently studying at St Andrews University, Scotland. I love writing about social media trends and unpicking the ways which platforms like Instagram and TikTok give rise to certain cultural phenomena. I'm writing for the Life section of Trill at the moment, so look out for my articles!

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