Sore Throat: Is It Mono?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Having a sore throat can be a symptom of many conditions, and many people wonder if their own sore throat might be a sign of something more serious than the common cold. Specifically, infectious mononucleosis ("mono") and infection with Streptococcus bacteria ("strep throat") are two conditions that both produce an extremely painful sore throat.

Like the common cold, infectious mononucleosis is caused by a viral infection. The virus responsible for mono is called the Epstein-Barr virus, abbreviated EBV. EBV is a very common virus worldwide, and studies show that up to 95% of the U.S. population has been infected with EBV at some point in their lives. EBV infection, especially if it occurs early in childhood, does not always cause illness, or it may cause a very mild illness that is not distinguishable from colds or other mild illnesses of childhood. However, when infection first occurs during the teen years or in young adulthood, infectious mononucleosis will develop in up to 50% of cases.

Symptoms of mono include:

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