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Meningitis

Viral meningitis is an inflammation in tissue layers that surround the brain and spine. It is often less serious than bacterial meningitis.

The Spinal Cord and Meninges
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Causes

Viral meningitis is caused by a virus. Some examples are:

Viruses spread from person to person in different ways. Some may be released into the air with coughs or sneezes. Others may spread through contact with infected fluids or mosquito bites.

Someone with viral meningitis is not likely to spread meningitis to someone else.

Risk Factors

Viral meningitis is more common in children under 5 years of age. Things that may raise the risk of an infection are:

  • A weak immune system from:
  • Crowded, unclean conditions
  • Season—summer and early fall in areas with mild climates

Symptoms

Symptoms of viral meningitis include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff or sore neck
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to bright lights
  • Sleepiness

Symptoms in newborns and infants include:

  • Inactivity
  • Fever—especially unexplained high fever
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Feeding poorly or refusing to eat
  • Bulging of soft spots between skull bones
  • Problems awakening

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

A sample of fluid around the spine and brain will be taken and tested. It is used to confirm meningitis. Blood, urine, sputum, and spinal fluid may also be tested. It will help to confirm that the infection is caused by a virus instead of bacteria.

Pictures of the brain, spine, and skull may be taken with:

Treatment

Most viral infections will pass on their own in 7 to 10 days. Treatment will help to ease symptoms. Steps may include:

  • Fluids—may be given by IV if vomiting is severe
  • Pain medicine

Prevention

There are no steps to prevent meningitis once someone has a virus. To reduce the risk of a virus:

  • Wash hands often—especially after using the bathroom or changing diapers.
  • Clean surfaces and objects on a regular basis.
  • Be sure vaccines are up to date.
  • Take steps to avoid mosquito bites.
  • Use proper care when cleaning rat or mouse feces or nesting.

References

  • Enteroviral meningitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/enteroviral-meningitis.
  • Kohil A, Jemmieh S, et al. Viral meningitis: an overview. Arch Virol. 2021;166(2):335-345.
  • Viral meningitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/viral.html.
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