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Meningitis (Viral)

What is viral meningitis (nonbacterial meningitis)?

Viral meningitis is a viral infection of the lining (meninges) covering the brain and spinal cord. There are many types of viruses that can cause this disease. 

Who gets viral meningitis?

Anyone can get viral meningitis, but it occurs most often in children. People with weakened immune systems caused by diseases, medications (such as chemotherapy) and recent organ or bone marrow transplants are also at an increased risk of contracting the disease. Babies younger than one month old and people with weakened immune systems are also more likely to have severe illness. 

Which viruses cause this form of meningitis?

Approximately half of the cases in the United States are due to common entero (intestinal) viruses. Occasionally, children will have viral meningitis associated with mumps or herpes virus infection. Mosquito-borne viruses also account for a few cases each year. In many cases, the specific virus cannot be identified.

How are the viruses that cause viral meningitis spread?

Because a number of different viruses are capable of causing viral meningitis, the manner in which the virus is spread depends upon the type of virus involved. Some are spread by person-to-person contact; others can be spread by insects.

Is a person with viral meningitis contagious?

Some of the enteroviruses that cause viral meningitis are contagious while others, such as mosquito-borne viruses, cannot be spread from person to person. Fortunately, most people exposed to these viruses experience mild or no symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms may include fever, headache, stiff neck, and fatigue. Rash, sore throat and intestinal symptoms may also occur.

How soon after infection do symptoms appear?

Symptoms generally appear within one week of exposure.

How is viral meningitis treated?

There are no specific medicines or antibiotics used to treat viral meningitis.

Should a person with viral meningitis be isolated?

Strict isolation is not necessary. Since most cases are due to enteroviruses that may be passed in the stool, people diagnosed with viral meningitis should be instructed to thoroughly wash their hands after using the toilet.