Tell me more about viral meningitis.
Meningitis is the inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis, and is mainly caused by a group of viruses known as enteroviruses. While viral meningitis produces the same symptoms as meningitis caused by bacteria and fungi, it is rarely fatal. In order to diagnose viral meningitis, and to differentiate it from bacterial and fungal meningitis, fluid from the spinal cord is withdrawn by needle and tested in the laboratory.
How is viral meningitis transmitted?
Although viral meningitis is typically not very contagious, it can be spread from one person to another. The two most common ways of spread are through direct contact with respiratory secretions, and through the stool (feces) of an infected person. However, only a very small fraction of persons infected with these enteroviruses will go on to develop viral meningitis. Therefore, while you may be infected with the virus that caused viral meningitis in another person, you are unlikely to contract meningitis yourself.
What are the symptoms of viral meningitis?
The symptoms of all types of meningitis are the same and include: fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea and vomiting, confusion, and light hurting the eyes. In infants, it may be difficult to identify some of these symptoms, and therefore the child may appear fever, difficulty in awakening, refusal to eat, and irritability.
Because the death rate from bacterial meningitis decreases noticeably with the early use of appropriate antibiotics, it is important to go to the Emergency Room if you notice yourself, your child, or a loved one with these symptoms. Bacterial meningitis is a rapidly progressing disease, and must be treated immediately. Viral meningitis does result in up to 50,000 hospitalizations per year, but has a significantly lower mortality rate and usually resolves on its own.
How is viral meningitis treated?
There are no medications for viral meningitis, and since the disease usually resolves on its own, care is mainly supportive. Doctors usually advise bed rest, lots of fluids, and medicine to relieve fever and headache.
How can I prevent viral meningitis?
Since no vaccines exist against viral meningitis, the best form of prevention is by good handwashing skills. If a person around you is sick with meningitis, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Also wash contaminated clothing and other items in hot water, and then disinfect them in a dilute chlorine bleach (1/4 cup bleach to one gallon of water) solution, if possible.
CDC Info on viral (aseptic) meningitis: