Background: Knowledge regarding the clinical characteristics and natural history of acute infectious mononucleosis is based largely on older, often retrospective, studies without systematic follow-up. Differences in diagnosis, methodology, or treatment between historical and current practice might affect an understanding of this illness.
Methods: Using a prospective case series design, we enrolled 150 persons with an acute illness serologically confirmed as Epstein-Barr virus infection. The goal of the study was to assess symptoms, physical examination findings, laboratory tests, and functional status measures during the acute presentation and 1, 2, and 6 months later.
Results: Acutely, infectious mononucleosis was characterized by the symptoms of sore throat and fatigue and substantial functional impairment. Objective physical and laboratory examination findings included pharyngitis and cervical lymphadenopathy, a moderate absolute and atypical lymphocytosis, and mildly elevated transaminase levels. The traditional signs of fever and splenomegaly were relatively uncommon. By 1 month, most symptoms and signs and all laboratory tests had returned to normal. Fatigue, cervical lymphadenopathy, pharyngitis, and functional health status improved more slowly.
Conclusions: In contemporary practice most of the classical illness features of infectious mononucleosis are observed. Symptoms, signs, and poor functioning might be protracted in some patients.