Viral Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation of the fluid and membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain. Viral meningitis is caused by a viral infection. It is important to know whether a virus or bacterium is causing your meningitis. Viral meningitis is generally less severe than bacterial meningitis. Aseptic meningitis is any meningitis not caused by a bacterial infection, including viral meningitis. Meningitis can also be caused by fungi, parasites, certain medicines, cancer, and autoimmune disorders.

Uncomplicated meningitis usually resolves on its own in 7 to 10 days. However, there can be complicated cases that last much longer. People with lowered immune systems are at greater risk for poor outcomes from meningitis. It is important to get treatment as soon as possible to minimize the impact of a meningitis infection. Long-term complications could include seizures, hearing loss, weakness, paralysis, blindness, or cognitive impairment.

CAUSES

Most cases of meningitis are due to viruses. Viruses that cause meningitis include enteroviruses (such as polio and coxsackie viruses), herpes simplex virus, varicella zoster virus, mumps, and HIV.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms can develop over many hours. They may even take a few days to develop. Common symptoms of meningitis in people over the age of 2 years include:

  • High fever.

  • Headache.

  • Stiff neck.

  • Irritability.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Fatigue.

  • Discomfort from exposure to light.

  • Discomfort from exposure to loud noise.

  • Trouble walking.

  • Altered mental status.

  • Seizures.

DIAGNOSIS

Early diagnosis and treatment are very important. If you have symptoms, you should see your caregiver right away. Your evaluation may include lab tests of your blood and spinal fluid. A spinal fluid sample is taken through a procedure called a lumbar puncture or spinal tap. During the procedure, a needle is inserted into an area in the lower back. You may also have a CT scan of your brain as part of your evaluation. If there is suspicion of an infection or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), an MRI scan may be done.

TREATMENT

  • Antibiotics are not effective against a virus. Antiviral medicines may be used depending on the cause of your meningitis.

  • Treatment for viral meningitis focuses on reducing your symptoms. This may include rest, hydration, and medicines to reduce fever and pain.

  • Steroids may also be used if there is significant swelling of the brain.

PREVENTION

  • Vaccines can help prevent meningitis caused by polio, measles, and mumps.

  • Strict hand washing is effective in controlling the spread of many causes of meningitis.

  • Using barrier protection during sexual intercourse can prevent the spread of meningitis caused by viruses such as the herpes virus or HIV.

  • Protection from mosquitoes, especially for the very young and very old, can prevent some causes of meningitis.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Rest.

  • Drink enough water and fluids to keep your urine clear or pale yellow.

  • Take all medicine as prescribed.

  • Practice good hygiene to prevent others from getting sick.

  • Follow up with your caregiver as directed.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You develop dizziness.

  • You have a very fast heartbeat.

  • You have difficulty breathing.

  • You develop confusion.

  • You have seizures.

  • You have unstoppable nausea and vomiting.

  • You develop any worsening symptoms.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.