Mono Vaccine Being Developed

A team of researchers and marketers are working towards creating a vaccine for the virus that causes mono.

By Keldrin Palmer
News Reporter

TUSCALOOSA— The early part of the year is always heavily associated with flu season. People often debate getting their flu shots and stay cautious not to contract the virus. A project group at the University of Alabama is trying to bring attention to another virus that will affect over 280,000 college freshmen this year.

The Mono Project is a research project that started at the University of Minnesota. Led by Dr. Henry Balfour Jr., the team has been working on creating a vaccine for the virus that causes the disease.

The research team utilizes Susan Fant,instructor of marketing and associate director of the masters of marketing program at the University of Alabama,to help spread awareness about their work and lead fundraising.

“This disease affects 95 percent of the population and we are so close to figuring this out,” Fant said.

Most people associate mono as the kissing disease but know little more about it. Mononucleosis is an infectious disease caused by one of the oldest, most common human viruses, the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). EBV has been linked to causing not only mono, but also several forms of cancer, including Burkitt lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. New information from the mono project also links the virus to development of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Symptoms can start extremely mild. They can include fatigue, fever, sore throat, headache and inflammation of the throat, but some people may not show any signs at all.

Some people don’t even know they’re carrying it,” said Alyssa Brown, a student marketing team member . “They just think they have a cold, and then it develops into mono two or three weeks later.”

As a part of their attempt to spread awareness, the Alabama advertising team organized an event called Kiss Mono Goodbye. Mataya Foster, a sophomore majoring in child life, hosted their event in the Ferguson Center on campus, selling chocolate kisses tagged with facts and statistics about the disease. The fundraiser made over $500 in just under four hours.

Foster said that her connection to the project did not come from contracting the disease herself, but through witnessing the effects on those around her.

“Mono is so detrimental. Watching my roommate go through it, she literally didn’t move for two weeks,” Foster said. “It was so hard to watch that.”

The virus, commonly known as the kissing disease, can be spread in just as many ways as the common cold. 

“We’re trying to eradicate the phrase ‘kissing disease’,” Brown said. “You can get it from someone sneezing on you or even coughing.” 

EBV is most easily spread through liquids, primarily ingested orally. It’s usually associated with kissing, but can also be spread through sharing drinks, sneezing or coughing. After Foster’s roommate was diagnosed with mono, the school removed her from the room they shared to eliminate the chance of spreading the disease.

Though there are remedies to help soothe the symptoms associated with mono, there is no known cure for the virus. Fant was diagnosed with adult onset mono and found no relief to her condition until discovering Balfour’s research.

“Most doctors do not have any effective way for handling mono. Most are prescribing nothing more than Tylenol, rest and time,” Fant said.

This event was the first official fundraiser that has taken place in addition to private donations made in response to publicity from Fant’s work. They are expected to have two more events this year including joint ventures with other foundations for MS, arthritis and more.