Glandular fever

What is glandular fever?

At some time in our lives, any of us may have suffered through the awful viral infection known as glandular fever without knowing it. Never, I hear you say. Well, remember that nasty sore throat when you couldn’t bear to swallow, chills then sweats, aches and pains, and the mere thought of food was just yuk! Such a flu-like illness may have been glandular fever. Yes that’s right. Glandular fever (or kissing disease, because it is transferred via saliva) is the common term used to describe an acute viral infection; its proper name is infectious mononucleosis. The virus that causes glandular fever is known as Epstein-Barr virus. Glandular fever mainly affects teens and young adults – ah ha, I hear you say, hence its nickname, the kissing disease.

What are some of the symptoms?

Most often children will complain of a sore throat and may have a fever (4). Extreme tiredness is also a common complaint and this might alert parents that there is something more than flu lurking. Your doctor will look at the state of your child’s tonsils and pharynx, where the nasty virus likes to take up residence. If spots are found there, the doctor may suspect infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever) and recommend further tests to make sure. Like most areas of health though, even glandular fever can present in strange ways; for example, some people can be asymptomatic, in other words show no apparent signs at all.

Your medical practitioner will look for a range of signals to make a more certain diagnosis. These (and their technical terms) include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)
  • Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly) – about 50% of people with glandular fever will experience this (2)
  • Yellow colouring of skin and eyes (jaundice) – about 4% of people with glandular fever will have this sign.

Blood testing is a good way to diagnose both an active infection and whether you have had the virus in the past.

Infection, timing and spread

Taking 4 to 6 weeks to develop (from time of infection with the virus) makes glandular fever a tricky little number to detect early. In addition, a person can be infectious for months and not know it. In some cases, the infectious period can last for over a year (4), so you can see why it is so widespread. While kissing is an obvious route of transmission, so too are items that children place in their mouths and shared food.

Luckily, glandular fever tends not to be too severe in young children, often only causing very mild symptoms and sometimes none at all (4). By the age of 5, about 50% of children have been infected (2).

While all of this makes glandular fever sound very innocuous, there has been some research into its possible link to chronic fatigue syndrome (5).

Should I keep my child at home?

Many agencies and health care professionals won’t recommend keeping an otherwise well child at home – if he or she does have the virus it’s not practical to expect a child to stay out of school or care for months on end. Of course, if you or your child is unwell and not up to going out of the house, rest is best and consult your doctor for further advice.

What can you do to reduce some of the effects?

Research tends to suggest that immunity is a central issue in recovery. In this case, diet is a good place to start. Also, herbalists and naturopaths offer a wide range of herbal medicines that achieve very good results in immune support. If you feel that immunity has played a role in the illness, then this line of attack could be helpful in hastening recovery, preventing re-occurrence and reducing susceptibility to other illnesses.


If you visit a nutritionist or similar health care professional, they may recommend some supplements. These could include vitamin C, a B-complex and things such as CoQ10 and immune boosting herbs such as Echinacea.

Dietary recommendations

Even more likely after a visit to a nutritionist or similar, you will come away with some dietary recommendations. Below is a possible list, but remember each case should be dealt with individually and each practitioner will have their own way of helping.

1. Increase nutrient dense foods

Opting for foods that will provide maximum nutrition for their grams is likely to help in recovery and in building a strong system. Consuming food that is high in kilojoules, has few nutrients and largely comes from, say, fat, is a waste of energy intake. Look at increasing:

  • Fresh fruit intake by including fruit smoothies made from various coloured berries
  • The amount of vegies that are eaten and try to include fresh options wherever possible.

2. Increase the intake of foods shown to have an anti-microbial action

  • Foods such as garlic and onions have a reputed effect of killing off bacteria and even viruses. Try adding freshly crushed garlic to meals when ready to serve and try shiitake mushrooms (Japanese mushrooms) in soups.

3. Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea or energy drinks

  • Caffeine is thought to tax an already struggling detoxification system, so limit these types of drinks. Children should ideally not be using energy drinks or even sports drinks, water is by far the best for children.

4. Avoid foods high in simple sugars and/or added sugars

  • Watch out for sugary foods and drinks such as cordial and many breakfast cereals. Opt for wholegrain cereals (see tip sheet on breakfast cereals) and breads.

5. Keep an eye on saturated fat

  • Remember we want to get energy from foods that come packed with lots of different nutrients. So limit foods such as chocolate, cakes, processed meats and spreads, junk food and takeaways. Instead opt for low-fat (for children over 2) dairy products, trim meats and healthy snacks such as nuts and yoghurts.

6. Drink plenty

  • Of water that is! Make sure urine is relatively clear – if it is dark and has an odour it could be a sign of dehydration.


Remember to ensure adequate rest. Recovery can be improved by getting lots of rest and harnessing the natural healing powers of sleep. Of course, once things begin to look up, it’s important to start to get active again but don’t over stress the body’s coping systems. In particular, avoid heavy lifting and contact sport due to risk of rupturing the spleen.

And always keep in mind that supplements are best taken under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.


This information has been provided by Leanne Cooper from Sneakys baby and child nutrition. Leanne is a qualified nutritionist and mother of two very active boys.