What happens when your teenager kisses 20 people at a party and ends up with glandular fever?

When Sam was recently sent home from school feeling badly fatigued, and with suspected mental health problems, I had a worried mum asking me what to do. Here’s what happened.

She told me that school were putting him under far too much pressure and not feeding him properly. The school said he was anxious and needed counselling. So, I asked her for any more background… and what Sam had been up to in the weeks and months beforehand. When she got to the bit about him having kissed 20 people at a teenage party in the school holidays, I immediately suspected glandular fever, so I suggested some blood tests which could give us a better clue. Sure enough, the results came back with an active virus called Epstein Barr, which is the one that triggers glandular fever… also known as the kissing disease!

The virus is usually transmitted through saliva, and you don’t even have to kiss to get it, as spit can be carried on your hands too and sharing drinks can be a way to pass it around. It can take up to 7/8 weeks for symptoms (roll back 7 weeks to those summer teen snogathons) to develop and you can infect others during this time in between. Here are some things to watch out for that could indicate glandular fever:

  • sore throat
  • fever
  • headaches
  • exhaustion
  • low mood

Normally parents put these symptoms down to the stress of school life, exams, poor school food and even the wet and cold miserable weather. But if it doesn’t pass within a few days, or the symptoms are extreme or debilitating, it could be time to see your GP and ask them to test for Epstein Barr Virus.

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How to self-treat
  • Rest and sleep as much as you can or need to – glandular fever is exhausting
  • Make sure you stay well hydrated with plenty of water, hot honey and lemon and freshly made juices
  • You can take occasional painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol if you are very uncomfortable and in pain, but the NICE guidelines say that these should not be taken just for fever
  • Avoid alcohol entirely, as your liver can be weakened – liver enzymes are usually raised in blood tests
  • Check your iron levels as the virus can lead to anaemia (lack of oxygen to the red blood cells)
  • The spleen can also swell, so avoid sports where you have a high chance of impact
  • As you start to feel better, build up your physical activity day by day with graduated exercise
  • Talk to your friends – they might have it too and you can support each other through this – we know of some very active What’s App groups where the teens have given the virus to each other and are all recuperating at home.

Also See the NHS’s advice

While getting better, you should take care not to spread it further. This means not kissing anyone (!), wash your hands, clothes, bedding and towels regularly, and don’t share anything that might carry it, such as cutlery, glasses, cups, napkins or towels.

Extra things that might be worth trying
  • The body needs good nutrition to function normally. This is a great opportunity to feed them lots of healthy, nutritious foods – pack in the fruits, veggies, soups and stews.
  • Spice up their food with garlic and ginger as these have natural immune supporting properties
  • Take natural antivirals like Elderberry & Monolaurin whilst the virus is still active.
  • Try Jarrah honey to soothe the throat and it gives a little natural energy
  • Ensure B vitamins, Iron and Vitamin D are optimised as EBV can cause anaemia and other nutrient depletions.
  • Getting enough Zinc is critical – this is the mineral most needed during puberty, so teens are at high risk of being deficient and oysters are not part of most people’s diet. Zinc is super important for a healthy immune system.
  • Work on reducing systemic inflammation and oxidative stress by consuming plenty of berries, turmeric and omega 3 from oily fish or fish oil supplements. Also consider food supplements with antioxidant properties such as quercetin, resveratrol and green tea.

Your teenager should be back at school (at least part time) within 2-3 weeks, but some teens take much longer to feel 100% better and the reality is more like 6 weeks for most – and some can feel really tired and run down for several months afterwards and develop post viral fatigue.

The long-term prognosis?

Most teens recover quickly from glandular fever, don’t ever look back and only have the stress of catching up on their missed schoolwork and social life. Like other viruses the Epstein Barr virus remains inactive within your body for the rest of your life, which is called latency. However, in some cases the virus can reactivate later in life causing episodes of fatigue and illness.

In the last couple of years research has also found that Epstein Barr has the potential to trigger a whole host of autoimmune diseases which include lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac disease and type 1 diabetes.

It is generally thought, that to develop a post-viral autoimmune disease you need to have both a genetic predisposition as well as intestinal permeability – so if you know you have autoimmunity in the family AND your child has had some low grade niggly gut issues, allergies, eczema, asthma or has needed to take antibiotics recently, then this is when the EBV virus might get the autoimmune ball rolling. So, therefore it’s really worth really working on their recovery and recuperation while they are still at home and you can feed and nourish them with their future in mind.

If you are worried, we at NatureDoc can do a more thorough check of their immune system, gut health, adrenal response, thyroid, inflammatory pathways and underlying nutritional reserves and then have a more targeted approach to getting their bodies stronger.

As ever, do consult your doctor, especially if symptoms get worse, as there are some potential complications, such as anaemia, other infections, the precursor to autoimmune conditions kicking in like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or neurological illnesses like Guillain-Barré syndrome.

In this post, names have been changed for confidentiality, and of course to save blushes!

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