Mono vs. the Flu: What Are the Main Differences?

Mono vs. the Flu: What Are the Main Differences?

As we enter the peak flu season, now is a good time to talk about viruses. Viruses are germs that enter a person's body and begin to multiply. They are contagious and are not treatable with antibiotics like their bacterial counterparts. Some of the most common types of viral infections include rhinoviruses (the common cold) and influenza (flu).

Mononucleosis vs. Influenza Causality 

The tricky thing about many viral infections is that they can manifest with overlapping symptoms with other types of infections, so an accurate diagnosis by a medical professional is a crucial step to getting you a proper treatment plan to cope with those symptoms. 

Two particular viral infections that can be difficult to differentiate from each other are mono and the flu. The best way to determine which infection is making you sick depends heavily on when the symptoms began, how severe they are, and how long they last. 

Infectious mononucleosis (mono) is often called the kissing disease. It gets this moniker because it is spread primarily through saliva. You can contract mono through sharing beverages or eating utensils with another person. The virus that causes the majority of mono cases is known as the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Mono is most contagious right before symptom development, but contrary to popular belief, it isn’t as contagious as some more common infections, like the common cold.

The flu virus is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. The most common flu viruses are influenza type A and B, which are the types that cause seasonal epidemics, also known as “flu season” in the United States. This period peaks from December to March. It can cause mild to severe illness, and it must be monitored due to dehydration and it’s propensity to lead to more life threatening illnesses like pneumonia if left untreated. 


Many people suffering from infectious mononucleosis report a feeling of severe fatigue. Physical symptoms of mono include the following: 

  • Sore throat 
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes 
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Persistent headache 
  • Possible skin rash
  • Soft, swollen spleen upon palpation by medical professional 

Flu symptoms usually come on very suddenly and can be mild to severe. Most people have experienced the flu in their lifetime, but certain risk factors make contracting the flu more dangerous. Factors like age can have an impact, as children and the senior population are at increased risk. Pregnant women and those who are immunocompromised, for example on chemotherapy or steroid treatments, are also factors. Certain health conditions can make a person more susceptible to the risks of flu. These conditions can include chronic lung diseases such as asthma or cystic fibrosis, heart and kidney diseases, and diabetes. Common symptoms of the flu are:

  • Fever 
  • Chills
  • Muscle and body aches 
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or other gastrointestinal upsets 


As shown in the symptom lists above, mono and flu share many of the same sets of symptoms. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis from the professional healthcare provider to get you on your way to recovering safely and effectively. 

Mono should be treated at home with plenty of rest and recuperation. It is important to stay hydrated so your body can function optimally while it’s working to eradicate the viral infection. At-home remedies to help with symptom relief include taking NSAIDs or ibuprofen for fever and body aches and lozenges for a sore throat. It is important to avoid vigorous or high intensity exercise due to increased risk of spleen injury while recovering from mono. 

Since viral infections can’t be tested with antibiotics, committing to getting lots of rest when you have the flu is the best thing you can do to heal your body and rid it of the viral infection. Oftentimes the flu can lead to dehydration, which opens you up to a myriad of complications, so drinking plenty of water throughout the day is essential to a quick recovery. Over-the-counter medications are a good option to treat the aches and pains associated with the flu. Many people report decreased appetite so choosing light, nutritious options like mild soups or bone broths are a good option to carry you through. Also, there are certain prescription medications that can help speed recovery, so ask your doctor about Tamiflu or other pharmaceutics that you might be a good candidate for. 

BASS Medical Group 

At BASS Medical Group, we understand that viral infections can put a real damper on holiday plans. We make it our mission to provide quality care to get you back to feeling like yourself again as quickly as possibly. We can offer you the best tips on how to stay healthy this flu season.