Viral meningitis is inflammation of the meninges or membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord caused due to a viral infection. It can be less severe than bacterial meningitis, but sometimes the severity may depend on the cause of the viral infection and the immune status of the patient. Viral meningitis is one of the common types of meningitis and usually resolves well; however, the required care needs to be taken.
What Are The Causes Of Viral Meningitis?
The common causes of viral meningitis are the viral infections caused by a group of viruses called enteroviruses. While enterovirus infections are very common, a small percentage of cases may develop viral meningitis due to these infections. These viruses commonly affect children and cause mild flu-like symptoms and sometimes even stomach upset.
There are other viral infections that too can lead to meningitis. These include influenza, measles, mumps, varicella zoster or chicken pox, herpes and other viral infections that spread due to insects, mosquitoes and rodents. HIV can also cause meningitis during the initial period of infection.
Viral meningitis can affect all ages, but young infants, children and persons with a weak immune system taking certain medications, undergone certain surgeries or chemotherapy may be at an increased risk. Persons with close contacts having viral meningitis are at a risk of getting affected by the viral infection that has led to meningitis but not necessarily viral meningitis.
How Does Viral Meningitis Spread?
The causative organisms of viral meningitis are viruses that spread by different means depending on their type. Enteroviruses spread from person to person through fecal-oral route. These viruses commonly spread from an infected person due to ways like poor hygiene after using toilet, during diaper changing in babies and poor hand washing methods. They can also spread via respiratory discharges like nasal discharges, saliva, etc of an infected person. Other viruses causing herpes, mumps, etc. too spread through respiratory and oral secretions.
There is another group of viruses called arboviruses, which cause viral infections like yellow fever, dengue fever, encephalitis, which can also cause meningitis. These spread through blood sucking arthropods like mosquitoes and insects. Some of the rare causes of viral meningitis include lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), which spread via rodents like mice, rats or even their waste products.
What Are The Symptoms Of Viral Meningitis?
Viral meningitis commonly caused by enteroviruses, usually occurs in fall and summer season and during change of climates. The symptoms usually last for 8 to 10 days and mostly resolve on their own depending on patient status and the exact virus.
Viral meningitis typically presents with severe headache, sudden onset of fever and stiff neck. Other symptoms commonly associated with these are nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light, alteration in mental status or confusion, drowsiness and lack of appetite. Constitutional symptoms like malaise, cough and body pain may be commonly seen.
Young children and infants may show fever along with irritability and excessive crying, excessive sleepiness and poor feeding. Sometimes children may also experience inability to concentrate and in-coordination, which may last for few weeks.
Diagnosis Of Viral Meningitis
Diagnosis of viral meningitis is confirmed by laboratory tests and analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) collected by lumbar puncture. Imaging studies like CT scan and other detailed investigations may be ordered if found appropriate.
Treatment Of Viral Meningitis
While viral meningitis is self limiting, symptomatic and supportive treatment is usually given. Medications to control fever, headaches and other symptoms are given. Adequate rest and hydration with oral and intravenous fluids should be given. In some cases hospitalization may be required.
What Are The After Effects Of Viral Meningitis?
Most of the cases of viral meningitis are resolved without any after effects, however in some cases; there may be problems like memory loss of attention issues lasting for a longer time. Younger children may be at some risk of neurological complications like seizures, weakness, paralysis, hydrocephalus, affected hearing, vision or speech and learning disabilities. Additional care must be taken in case of newborns to prevent viral meningitis from being fatal.
Prevention Of Viral Meningitis
Preventive measures that focus on controlling the spread of infection should be adopted. As viral infections can spread from person to person, following personal and community hygiene is important. Control of mosquitoes or insects and personal protection can help in limiting spread by mosquitoes and related viral infections. Use of barrier devices and sex education can help in preventing the spread of some types of herpes viruses.
Hand washing practices before and after eating, using toilets and changing diapers is essential. Commonly used surfaces like table tops, door knobs should be disinfected. Infected persons should be managed well and their personal items of use should be kept separate. Care takers and other family members should take necessary precautions to avoid spread of infection.
Pregnant women and young children need to avoid exposure to infected pets, rodents or public pools and follow the necessary hand washing practices. Newborns should be specially protected from mosquitoes to avoid the spread of infection. Vaccination schedule for specific viral infections like mumps, measles, chicken-pox, polio should be strictly followed. Recommended immunization schedule for children should be followed according to the physician’s advice.