Coping with Glandular Fever – PART 1

When people ask me how does glandular fever make you feel, the best way I can sum up this debilitating virus is by saying it’s like the few days after a 4 day festival which you have hit excessively hard permanently. We’ve all been there – whether it’s Glastonbury, a stag do or a few days in Ibiza, we all know that the highs are followed by an almighty low and the hangover doesn’t seem to go until deep into the following week. If you manage to drag yourself to the office that first day back it’s an unbelievable accomplishment given the way you feel. The fact that you’re running at 30% efficiency at best when you’re there doesn’t really matter because you have made it in. That is how I felt for I’d say 4 months earlier this year. I must of been terrible to live with during those months because each evening when I’d get back from work I was good for nothing & just collapsed on the sofa and was usually tucked up in bed well before 9pm. It’s been an unbelievably boring existence in 2017; until a few weeks ago, I have been unable to exercise, socialise or drink – basically everything I enjoy doing in life!

Thankfully now I am well on the way to recovery. I have started some light exercise in the past few weeks, incredibly wary of overexerting myself and relapsing so taking it one step at a time. To put it into context – I’m currently doing a third of my standard daily pre-work swim every few days. I can now have one or two drinks without it having a terrible effect on me but because I’ve been sober for so much of the year the temptation to get carried away is hard to resist (as results have shown in the past couple of weeks) but I’m very conscious that I need to nip that in the bud and be as disciplined as I was when I was fully fit and training hard.

But what is glandular fever?

It caused from the viral infection Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) which commonly affects teenagers and young adults. I’m clearly fairly old to catch it but it is frequently associated with endurance athletes. I see another top sportsman in Mark Cavendish has been struggling with it this year! Although his powers of recovery are clearly far superior to mine as he was competing in the Tour De France which got underway last weekend. He seemed to be in decent shape before he got shunted off his bike knocking him out of the tour which knowing how difficult it has been for me, I find remarkable. EBV is also called human herpesvirus 4 (HHV-4), is one of eight known viruses in the herpes family – not a sexually transmitted one before you get any ideas!!

How do you catch it?

The virus is found in the saliva of infected people and can be spread through kissing – glandular fever is often referred to as the “kissing disease”. EBV may be found in the saliva of someone who has had glandular fever for several months after their symptoms pass, and some people may continue to have the virus in their saliva on and off for years. So who have you been snogging I hear you ask? I find it even more frustrating that I didn’t pick this up playing the field in my heyday a decade or so ago, when the illness would have followed a lot of fun. The only person who has the misfortune of kissing me these days is Holly and that is a rare occurrence in itself!

So how could I have caught this? Well I actually first started feeling peaky after a New Years Eve party, where there was one particularly pissed chap (Tom Whicher) who was wondering around sporadically giving people smackers on the lips – sounds a bit weird I know and in truth, it was a bit weird. Many people after that party became ill including yours truly as one of the snoggers victims! The problem was that I never felt better after picking up that initial virus.

After a number of visits to my GP and to ‘specialists’ within the NHS I was told that my blood results showed that I had contracted a virus and I was suffering from post viral fatigue but it was nothing to be too concerned about. Interestingly my blood tests showed that at some stage in my life I had been infected by EBV but that it wasn’t a live infection. This advice was to go on holiday, chill out and get some sun and you’ll feel better when you return… This was at the beginning of February when I was about to go to Australia to be a best man with a stag do, wedding and holiday ahead of me. Me being me, I pushed it probably more than I should have in hindsight, but then again I just thought I was recovering from a cold I caught a month earlier. I also had barely been training and that was becoming a big concern with the departure date only a few months away. Eager to get back to fitness, I thought I’d try and sweat it out but looking back that was definitely not the right thing to do. I remember attempting to run on empty and I couldn’t understand why I had no energy when I was smashing back the energy gels and they were having no boosting effect on me whatsoever. I now know that this was definitely not the right way to go about things.

Whilst in Oz I knew that something wasn’t right as my glands stayed up and although the holiday sun gave me a slightly healthier facade, I was still struggling. With Arch2Arctic’s departure date less than 4 months away I knew I had to escalate things to get to the bottom of what was wrong with me. As I had medical cover with work, I don’t know why I didn’t go private back in January. Now at the beginning of March I saw an immunologist and presented him with my blood results and notes from the NHS. He basically said these test results mean nothing, you need to properly analyse the blood. What he said is the NHS only really look for the high level risk stuff such as cancer and HIV and don’t ask you for the dozen additional blood samples that he wanted. A week later I returned to hear the bad news – I was absolutely riddled with EBV (IgG positive). He explained that my EBV (IgG) blood count was 561 with the absolute maximum being 600. It would take a long long time for this to flush out my system. Without getting into too much medical detail, the results had shown that it was likely that the virus I’d had picked up after the NYE party had triggered the latent EBV infection I must have had when I was younger. I’m sure the fact that I was pushing my body and my immune system was run down had something to do with it….