Glandular fever symptoms are vague but painful. People rarely die of it, but at some stages of it you may wish you could. Its effects are long-drawn-out, like its clinical name.
The complaint goes by the jaw-breaker technical name of infectious mononucleosis. But it is more commonly known simply as glandular fever.
It is quite unspectacular, frequently undiagnosed, and rarely reported in the daily Press.
The first symptom of the disease is usually a sore throat. A few transient headaches may follow. Then the glands located under the jaw and in the neck become swollen and painful.
There is a general feeling of lassitude. Aches and pains occur in any part of the frame. Back, head, neck, limbs, groin. These are the commonest sites.
The individual believes he or she merely has “a bit of a throat infection.” These are rampant most times of the year – scarcely a season escapes.
However, as with a simple oncoming cold, or slight bout of flu, the symptoms of glandular fever do not disappear so readily.
In fact, they tenaciously hang on and indeed become more severe as the days (and weeks) pass.
Depression a distressing feature
Often a high fever develops. Pains in many parts become more pronounced. The sensation of fatigue and complete inability to carry on normal working duties are outstanding.
The patient merely wants to lie in bed day after day. There is a dislike for food, often depression sets in and can be a marked and distressing feature.
If any effort at activity is made, it’s usually followed by a sensation of utter prostration.
This is particularly apparent in growing children, who normally abound in life and vitality. Many begin to lose weight as their food intake decreases day after day.
Many patients sleep an enormous number of hours each day. But this does not result in the return of normal vitality usually generated by sleep.
It’s believed a minute virus causes glandular fever, but to date the researchers are still trying to isolate it. It has a predilection for the lymphatic glands of the system. These are roundish organs about the size and shape of a pea. They are scattered in chains at strategic parts of the body.
There are many of them under the jaw, in the neck along the windpipe, and down into the chest and abdomen.
Also, a large number are present in the groin. This is the reason why these parts become tender when infection strikes. The glands tend to swell, become infected themselves, get inflamed, and sore.
The lymph glands are supposed to be a protective device. When germs enter the body, these glands generate material that quells oncoming invaders. But with this complaint, the reverse occurs. The invaders are often a bit too powerful and knock down the defense mechanism first!
The spleen, a big organ that sits in the upper abdominal cavity, also swells. It may be felt as it juts from under the lower rib margin on the left-hand side.
Frequently the poor old liver is caught up in the disaster zone and swells and aches as well.
Lengthy rest in bed usually ordered
It may be felt in a position similar to the spleen but on the right-hand side.
The diagnosis of glandular fever is often delayed and frequently missed altogether. Many people with mild attacks do not call the doctor. Others delay this and seek medical advice only when symptoms have not gone after a month or more.
Of course, most doctors are well aware of the prevalence of the disorder and are on the lookout for it. But as the symptoms are similar to many other non-serious ailments, it’s easy to miss a diagnosis.
Doctors have a few investigatory tests at their disposal. These can often confirm the presence of the disease.
One is the Paul Bunnell test, and a simpler mono screening test can often give an accurate answer in a short time.
However, a large number of patients with the disease yield a negative answer, which makes it a bit harder to be absolutely certain.
Sometimes a “blood picture” is taken. A drop of blood is placed by the pathologist on a glass slide. It is then stained with various fluids and examined under the microscope. With glandular fever a large number of abnormal cells are discovered, giving a diagnosis.
Key to the entire procedure is What Then? Once the diagnosis has been established, a routine of therapy must be begun.
Unfortunately, there is no specific drug that will attack and kill the virus causing glandular fever. Maybe not enough research has been done. Because of the non-lethal nature of the complaint, it has not attracted much interest with researchers over the years. Unlike the spectacular advances made with heart-disease treatment, leukemia, and other debilitating illnesses, glandular fever has remained where it was.
Most physicians put patients to bed. There they are likely to remain anything from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Many cases have spent more time in bed simply because they have been physically incapable of returning to normal activities earlier.
Simple gargling with hot salty water helps relieve the throat discomfort. Sometimes a hot pack to the painful throat and neck outside helps a little. Heat is a well-known pain reliever.
Aspirin and paracetamol preparations are widely used. Paracetamol (adults 2 x 500mgm tablets 3-4 times a day) and aspirin (adults 2 x 300mgm tablets 3-4 times a day) temporarily alleviate fevers and bouts of pain, irrespective of where they occur.
Lots of fluid is essential with all illnesses, including this one. Either water or any water-based drink is suitable.
Fruit juices offer variation, and contain extra vitamins which may assist a little.
Doctors do not agree on the use of antibiotics. To be sure, they will not cure the disorder. But some physicians believe other germs are more likely to attack a person with glandular fever, so tend to prescribe antibiotics “as a prophylactic measure” rather than for any specific reason.
“You must give your patient something, and what could be better than protection from other possible disease onslaughts,” several doctors have commented.
Maybe this is sensible thinking; others may disagree. At least the patients can pin their faith to something and psychologically this must assist.
Vitamins are frequently prescribed. Some doctors claim they give the system added zest to quell the invaders. Others are dubious. One thing is certain, they will not harm, and it seems probable some benefit could accrue.
In severe cases, skin rashes occur with the disease. However, when a greater-than-average number of skin reactions occurred during an English epidemic, doctors took a second look.
It was discovered that many were prescribing the potent antibiotic ampicillin. It seems that many persons developed the red skin reaction soon after. So ampicillin is now not prescribed, and, indeed, can engender more fear in the patient than it is worth if side-effects such as this appear.
Quite apart from the gross discomfort of symptoms, a major problem with adults is time lost from work.
Call your doctor and take his advice
For high-school candidates, especially those sitting for important exams, missing a term (and even longer) from school in key years is a major setback. Not only could it spell examination disaster, but repeat years can generate problems.
With breadwinners in distress, real financial hardship has not been uncommon. When a disease occurs, preventing work for endless weeks, income can suddenly reduce to zero.
Those in the executive bracket may fare better. However prolonged absence from work over a number of months can finally produce problems.
Fortunately, the disease is not highly contagious. It is pretty rare to find more than one person in a family contracting it. There seems to be no particular age group affected. Men and women seem to get it in pretty well equal proportions. Social and domestic living conditions do not seem to play a part.
If you’re a victim, you’re plain unlucky. But best call your family physician and be governed by his suggestions.
By now he is well experienced in identifying the disorder and could offer the best advice, tailor-made for your particular set of circumstances.
He won’t be able to give you a seven-day cure, but his general recommendations will help cut short some of the discomforts the disease invariably brings.