Viral Meningitis: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments & Preventions

Meningitis is a healthy condition that occurs as a result of the inflammation of the tissue covering the human brain and the spinal cord. Meningitis is of two kinds: viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis. Of these two, bacterial meningitis is the serious of the two. It has a potential of ruining the brain, causing limb amputation, deafness and in the worst case, stroke. On the other hand, viral meningitis, commonly known as aseptic meningitis, is less severe. Unlike the bacterial meningitis, viral meningitis is often diagnosed with less lasting effects, hence reducing its fatality.

What Are the Symptoms of Viral Meningitis?

Viral meningitis symptoms are usually similar to those of bacterial meningitis but are less severe. Bacterial meningitis on the other hand has a potential of causing death in just a matter of hours. Depending on the cause, meningitis symptoms may be noticeable within hours or in a day or two.

Symptoms of Viral Meningitis in People Above 2

If not carefully diagnosed, meningitis symptoms and signs may easily be confused with those of influenza. Signs and symptoms of meningitis of anyone above the age of 2 years are as follows:

  • Acute headache that is different from a normal one
  • No appetite for eating and drinking
  • Abrupt high fever
  • For meningococcal meningitis, rashes may develop on the skin
  • Nausea accompanied with headache
  • Occasional seizures
  • Feeling sleepy and/or difficult to come out of sleep
  • Stiffness around the neck region
  • A high sensitivity to light
  • Low concentration levels and confusion

Symptoms of Viral Meningitis in Newborns

Symptoms for anyone younger than two years old will relatively be different from viral meningitis in adults. Most importantly, there may not be the typical headache and rigid neck symptoms. However, the following signs may be noticeable.

  • Irritation and heavy sleepiness
  • Abnormal high fever
  • Bulging on the baby’s soft spot on the head
  • A continuous cry
  • Sluggishness and lethargy
  • Inability to feed well
  • Some cases may include baby’s neck and body stiffness

It is usually not easy to calm down a baby under this meningitis condition and may continue crying the more.

When to See a Doctor

The attention of a doctor may be sought in the event the sick person has or shows the following:

  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Stiff neck
  • Fever
  • Acute and severe headache

Usually, viral meningitis may show positive signs of healing even without treatment unlike bacterial meningitis. However, those younger than a month old as well as people having weak immune systems can be hit hard by the condition.

The only way to establish the kind of meningitis affecting the young one is by consulting a professional doctor for a spinal fluid test. If there is someone suffering from meningitis close to you, make sure you get preventive medication from your doctor.

What Causes Viral Meningitis?

Viral meningitis is commonly caused by viruses in the enterovirus family. It can also be a result of an infection to the meninges. The viruses get their way to the human brain tissues through the mouth. The main viruses responsible for viral meningitis are echoviruses and Coxsackie viruses. Viral meningitis could also be a result of:

  • Herpes viruses – both type 1 and 2
  • Varicella (chickenpox) virus
  • West Nile virus
  • Rabies virus
  • Mumps virus
  • HIV
  • Rabies virus
  • Viruses transmitted through infected mosquitoes

How Is Viral Meningitis Treated?

Meningitis caused by the enteroviruses has no antiviral drugs for cure. Therefore, treatment will come in form of supportive care that includes patient rehydration to replenish loss resulting from vomit. Other types of care could be pain relief treatment for the headache symptoms and any other pain in the body. If the body can develop antibodies and full immunity, treatment can take its right course. This may happen in a week or so.

For a severe case like that linked with herpes simplex, it is important to provide treatment at an early stage. To determine the meningitis symptoms cause, antiviral drugs can be supplied. For severe cases, both antiviral agents and antibiotics should be prescribed until a point where the cause has successfully been determined because antibiotics may not bring out the best results on their own against viruses.

Is Viral Meningitis Contagious?

Indeed, viral meningitis is contagious. Enteroviruses, which are the main causative agents, can be spread by way of saliva, sputum or mucus of an infected person. The transfer can take place where you touch the same object with an infected person and touch your mouth or nose before cleaning your hands. Other means of spread can also be through sneezing and coughing.

Depending on the virus, viral meningitis can spread through:

  • An infected person’s bloodstream to another body part
  • Contaminated stool when infected individuals fail to wash their hands following a bowel movement
  • For enteroviruses, the spread can even happen inside a swimming pool
  • During sex with an infected person – especially with the HIV
  • An infected mosquito bite – for St. Louis virus and West Nile Virus
  • Inhaling the virus in the air
  • Contact with contaminated food or dust, maybe through infected mice’s stool and urine – for the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus
  • Injected drugs using infected needles – for HIV

Can Viral Meningitis Be Prevented?

Being the common causative agents, non-polio enteroviruses cannot be stopped through vaccines. However, their ability to cause infection or even spread can be prevented through the following methods:

  • Wash hands with water and soap after using the toilet, changing diapers, nose blowing or coughing.
  • Stop touching your face with dirty hands.
  • Keep off infected people by avoiding hugs and kisses. Don’t share utensils with them too.
  • Cover sneezes and coughs with tissue paper or the upper shirt sleeve and not with your hands.
  • Cleanse and disinfect commonly used objects and surfaces such as doorknobs and toys.
  • Let the sick person stay at home.
  • Make sure regular vaccinations are conducted. Vaccinations against chickenpox, mumps, influenza and measles can help prevent viral meningitis.
  • Protect yourself from insect bites such as mosquitoes.
  • Control rats and mice in your home.
  • Clean your bathroom with a bleaching agent or a commercial disinfectant if you are sharing it with an infected person.

These measures should be strictly followed if you have any medical situation that affects your immune system negatively.

Watch a video to learn what effects a viral meningitis will have: 

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