Viral Meningitis FAQ
This article will provide information about viral meningitis by answering some of the most frequently asked questions. Further information can be found at www.meningitisnow.org.
What is viral meningitis?
Viral meningitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and the spinal cord. These membranes are called the meninges – they help protect the brain from injury and infection. Viral meningitis is more common than bacterial meningitis and although rarely life-threatening, it can make people very unwell. Most people make a very good recovery, but for some recovery can be slow and after-effects long lasting.
As viral meningitis rarely threatens life, generally a lot less is understood about it and the effect it has on sufferers. People can be left feeling that they are not taken seriously and are often not offered information and support during their recovery. This fact sheet can help you explain to others what can be expected following viral meningitis.
Who gets viral meningitis and why?
Viral meningitis can affect any age group, but it is most common in young children as their body’s defences are not fully developed. If a virus invades the body their immune system cannot provide resistance to fight off infection.
How does viral meningitis develop?
Occasionally, viruses defeat the body’s defences and cause infection. If this occurs, the virus can spread through the body to the meninges and cause meningitis. When the virus infects the meninges, tiny blood vessels in the membranes are damaged. This allows the virus to break through and infect the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The meninges become inflamed and pressure around the brain can cause nerve damage. Pressure on the brain can produce the specific symptoms associated with meningitis such as:
- Severe headache
- Dislike of bright lights (photophobia)
- Neck stiffness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Confusion and drowsiness
- Loss of consciousness
How is viral meningitis treated?
Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, although, in some instances, antibiotics may be started on admission to hospital because the cause of meningitis is not known. Antibiotics are usually discontinued if viral meningitis is diagnosed.
There is no specific treatment for most cases of viral meningitis. Patients need to be hydrated with fluids, given painkillers and allowed to rest in order to recover.
What happens when there is a case?
Viral meningitis is not generally considered to be contagious; therefore contact with someone who has the illness does not increase the risk of disease to others. Although viruses spread from person to person, linked cases of viral meningitis are extremely unusual and almost all cases occur on their own.
What happens after viral meningitis?
The majority of people who get viral meningitis will make a good recovery with no long lasting after-effects. However, a number of people will be left with a variety of problems, some serious enough to cause permanent disability.
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