Epstein-Barr Virus (Glandular Fever)

Written by Dr Claudia Pastides, 11th March 2019

Glandular fever is a common cause of sore throat, fever and swollen glands in the neck. It usually gets better on it's own after 2-4 weeks. 90% of adults will have been infected by the Epstein-Barr virus by the age of 25 and the majority won’t have noticed any symptoms.


The virus is spread through having contact with the saliva of an infected person. This is why it is sometimes referred to as “kissing disease”.

Risk factors:

People more likely to catch glandular fever include:

  • Adolescents
  • Those sharing food and drinking utensils with others
  • People in close contact with someone who has infectious mononucleosis
  • People with a weakened immune system
  • People with HIV

Typical Symptoms

Although most people have minimal or no symptoms when they have glandular fever, some will have symptoms such as:

  • Feeling tired
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Headache

Common Treatment

  • Rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Common painkillers
  • Avoiding contact sports because of the risk of rupturing your spleen, as it can be enlarged if you have glandular fever

When to speak to a doctor

Glandular fever is usually a self-limiting illness, however it is good to speak to a doctor if you have:

  • Symptoms that do not improve within a couple of weeks despite sufficient bed rest
  • Sudden abdominal pain, especially on the left side
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Difficulty breathing


It is difficult to avoid exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus as many of those that are infected will not have obvious symptoms, however if you know someone has a sore throat or glandular fever it is worth avoiding sharing food and drinking utensils with them.

More information 

NHS information on glandular fever