Health & Medical Infectious Diseases

What Is Viral Meningitis?


    • Signs of viral meningitis differ between adults and very young children. Adults may suffer from a high fever, nausea, problems sleeping or fatigue, reduced appetite, sensitivity to light, severe headache, stiff neck, and vomiting. Infants may develop a fever and irritability, and they may become harder to feed and wake up. Symptoms typically appear anywhere from one to seven days after infection, and they are often mistaken as an indication of influenza (the flu).


    • Numerous viruses can cause viral meningitis, although the most common source in the United States---producing 90 percent of cases, according to the Mayo Clinic---belong to the group called enteroviruses. Such viruses strike in the summer and fall most often, and they lead to symptoms that include aching joints, a cold, headache, rash and sore throat. Very few people infected by an enterovirus develop viral meningitis. Other viruses that may cause viral meningitis are those capable of producing medical conditions like herpes, influenza, the measles and the mumps; arboviruses spread by insects like mosquitoes; and the rare lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus is circulated by rodents.

    Risk Factors

    • People who don't receive the recommended vaccines---especially those targeting chickenpox, measles, and mumps---during childhood are at elevated risk of getting viral and other forms of meningitis. Children less than 5 years old are most likely to become infected with viral meningitis. Other groups at higher risk include people with weak immune systems due to a health condition like AIDS or diabetes.


    • For people with healthy immune systems, the symptoms of viral meningitis often clear up completely without treatment in one to two weeks, although doctors usually recommend that patients get plenty of rest and fluids. Nonprescription pain relievers can also help reduce body aches and fever, and antiviral medication may be prescribed if the herpes virus caused the meningitis. In severe cases, such as with young children and people who have weak immune systems, hospital care may be required.


    • Since the viruses responsible for viral meningitis frequently cause other contagious infections, decreasing the likelihood of contracting viral meningitis requires limiting your exposure to infectious substances. For example, keep hands clean through regular proper washing; don't share eating utensils, toothbrushes and similar personal items to avoid contact with other people's saliva and mucus; and lead a healthy lifestyle with adequate sleep, dietary nutrition and physical activity to maintain a strong immune system.

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