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Mononucleosis (Mono) Test

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Also known as: Mononucleosis Spot Test; Mononuclear Heterophile Test; Heterophile Antibody Test; Monospot
Formal name: Heterophile Antibody Titer

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The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Infectious mononucleosis, commonly called mono, refers to an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). The mono test detects proteins in the blood called heterophile antibodies that are produced by the immune system in response to an EBV infection.

Infectious mononucleosis is characterized by a particular set of symptoms that most often affects adolescents. People who have mono often have a fever, sore throat, swollen glands, and fatigue. Many will also have an enlarged spleen, and a few may have an enlarged liver. Symptoms of the infection usually arise about one month after the initial infection and may last for several weeks. The associated fatigue may last for several months. Mono is usually a self-limiting condition; the symptoms resolve without any specific treatment.

Epstein-Barr virus is very common and very contagious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people in the United States are infected by EBV at some point in their lives. The virus is present in the saliva of an infected person and is easily spread from person to person through close contact such as kissing and through sharing utensils or cups.

Most of the time, EBV infection occurs in childhood and causes few or no symptoms. However, it can cause symptoms associated with infectious mononucleosis in about 25% of teens and young adults, according to the CDC. Mono can affect anyone at any age, but its prevalence is highest in populations of young people, such as students in high schools or colleges, or in the military.

The mono test is 71% to 90% accurate and may be used as an initial test for diagnosing infectious mononucleosis. However, the test does have a 25% false-negative rate due to the fact that some people infected with EBV do not produce the heterophile antibodies that the mono test is designed to detect. If a mono test is negative and suspicion it still high, then a test specific for EBV antibodies is usually performed.

A complete blood count (CBC) and blood smear are usually also performed, as mono is also characterized by a high white blood cell (WBC) count and the presence of atypical white blood cells (usually reported as reactive lymphocytes) as seen on a blood smear.

According to the CDC, examples of other causes of mono include:

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is drawn by needle from a vein in the arm or by pricking the finger.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.