Viral meningitis is an inflammation in tissue layers that surround the brain and spine. It is often less serious than bacterial meningitis.
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Viral meningitis is caused by a virus. Some examples are:
- Enteroviruses—most common cause
- Viruses that cause
- West Nile virus—from infected mosquitoes
Viruses spread from person to person in different ways. Some may be released in 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.
Viral meningitis is more common in children under 5 years old. Things that may raise the risk of an infection are:
- A weak immune system from:
- Certain conditions, such as HIV
- Certain treatments
- Crowded, unclean conditions
- Season—summer and early fall in areas with mild climates
Symptoms of viral meningitis include:
- Stiff or sore neck
- Sensitivity to bright lights
Symptoms in newborns and infants include:
- Fever—especially unexplained high fever
- Feeding poorly or refusing to eat
- Bulging of soft spots between skull bones
- Problems awakening
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 will confirm meningitis. Blood, urine, sputum, and spinal fluid may also be tested. It will help to confirm the infection is caused by a virus instead of bacteria.
Images of the brain, spine, and skull may be taken with:
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
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.
- Enteroviral meningitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/enteroviral-meningitis. Accessed April 29, 2022.
- 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. Accessed April 29, 2022.
- David Horn, MD
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