Saturday, September 29, 2001 - Perspective
NSDT Update: A Little Insight Into Mono

- By: Erik Carleton

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Infectious Mononucleosis, or mono, as it is commonly known, is a dreaded condition for any serious athlete. Many skiers around Canmore have contracted mono in the last few years, but it seems like every case is different. The variation in the intensity of symptoms is likely due to differences in training phases and time of diagnosis. Mono, or, more precisely, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which is the virus that causes mono, is actually quite common. Of course, if you are not in training or racing you might not be significantly affected by it. As others and I can attest to, the only way to get rid of mono is to eat well and get plenty of rest.

Most children are exposed to EBV at a young age, although they show no symptoms. Like other herpes viruses, it stays quiet in the body for a long time, often reactivating when the immune system of the body is weakened. This means athletes are often at risk. EBV is transmitted through saliva, leading to its nickname, "kissing disease". The name mononucleosis comes from the abnormally large number of white blood cells with a single nucleus called lymphocytes. Mono is most common in people between the ages of 10 and 25, but EBV can recur later in life. EBV is a ubiquitous virus in our world.

The first step in getting rid of mono is to confirm that you have it. Symptoms usually appear 4 to 7 weeks after you have been infected. Diagnosis begins with your medical history, followed up by bloodwork to confirm the presence of antibodies, as well as mono itself. Common symptoms include enlarged lymph nodes, sore throat, fever, enlarged spleen and excessive fatigue. At times, it resembles a simple cold that lasts much longer than normal. In my case, the symptoms of mono were confused with "overtraining". It is important to see a doctor who understands the special needs of athletes. For me it was at least three months between when I had the virus and when I was diagnosed. Having mono is not fun, but it is important to know you have it.

The remedy for mono is simple: get plenty of rest and avoid stress. Good nutrition and plenty of fluids help your body combat the virus. If your spleen is enlarged, it is important to avoid vigorous activities, which could result in a rupture. For athletes this means stay away from activities that could result in a fall, such as mountain biking, roller skiing, contact sports and even running in some cases. This assumes that you are not too fatigued to train. It is more important to allow your body to fight the virus, than to worry about lost hours of training. Also, follow good hygiene, because your immune system will be weakened and more vulnerable to attack.

When you are able to get back into training, start slowly. It is a common mistake to do too much too soon, resulting in more setbacks. Endurance athletes always feel guilty when they are not training, but you need to combat your urges to train. It may sound ridiculous to do a 4-hour week, but that might be all you can manage without becoming fatigued. Then, build up slowly, sticking to easy distance training until your recovery times return to normal. This could to weeks and even months. When it comes to mono, patience is indispensable.

The best solution is obviously to avoid mono altogether. Keep this in mind when you are sharing water bottles, or engaging in other saliva-exchanging activities. If you do get it stay informed and be patient. The rest will do you good and further your opportunities to perform at your best down the road.

Infections Mononucleosis

Solving The Mystery of Mononucleosis

Infectious Mononucleosis Forum

mononucleosis, infectious

Epstein-Barr virus

(Erik Carleton has been a member of the Canmore National Development Team for 5 years. He has represented Alberta at 8 national championships where he has won numerous medals.)

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