What is viral meningitis

Viral meningitis

What is viral meningitis?

Viral meningitis is a viral infection of the meninges (the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord). There are many possible viruses that can cause this infection, and many of these viruses are very common. Viral meningitis is most commonly found in newborns and young children.

Symptoms of meningitis include:

  • a headache
  • nausea
  • Vomit
  • irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drowsiness

Although older children and adults often do not need specific treatment for viral meningitis, newborns and young children may need antiviral drugs. Newborns and young children are at increased risk of complications from an episode of viral meningitis. Vaccinations and good hygiene can prevent some cases of meningitis.

Another name for viral meningitis: a viral infection of the membranes of the brain and spinal cord.

Triggers and risks of viral meningitis

Viral meningitis is the most common cause of meningitis. It is most common in newborns, toddlers, and children, although it can affect people of all ages.

Many common viruses can cause viral meningitis:

Less common viral causes are mumps, measles, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), polio virus, and West Nile virus, and there are many others.

Children who have not received extensive vaccinations have an increased risk of meningitis. Newborns and young children who have been in contact with people with viral infections are also at increased risk of developing the condition.

What are the signs of meningitis?

The typical symptoms of meningitis include:

  • a headache
  • Stiffness of the neck
  • fever
  • nausea
  • Vomit

Newborns and young children may have poor appetite, cry, or be unusually irritable or drowsy. Viral infections can also cause symptoms of infection in other parts of the body, such as a rash or shortness of breath.

If you are unsure whether these symptoms apply to you, start a symptom analysis.

Investigation and diagnosis

Diagnosis is based on symptoms, a physical exam, and examining a sample of spinal fluid (the fluid inside the meninges that surrounds the brain and spinal cord) for signs of meningitis in the meninges and to rule out the possibility of bacterial infection. This test is also done to determine the specific virus responsible for the infection.

How is viral meningitis treated?

In older children and adults, in most cases no special treatment is required. However, these people should seek treatment for their symptoms. Paracetamol can relieve headaches and the person should drink plenty.

Newborns and young children, and people with signs of complication, may need antiviral medication to fight the virus causing the infection.

Prognosis for meningitis

Newborns are at greatest risk for complications after an episode of viral meningitis and can develop severe consequences such as swelling of the brain, learning difficulties, numbness, or seizures. At this age, viral meningitis can be life threatening.

Older children and adults usually feel better and recover well within seven to ten days of meningitis. A full recovery can take weeks. It is rare for people in this age group to develop protracted complications.

Can you prevent viral meningitis?

Some common causes of viral meningitis are preventable with vaccination. Following the recommended vaccination schedule can prevent some cases of meningitis. Good hygiene, such as washing your hands, can also help prevent some cases of meningitis.