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. There were more than 450 cases of viral meningitis reported among New York City residents in 2003.
Anyone can get viral meningitis, but it occurs most often in children.
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.
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.
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.
The symptoms may include fever, headache, stiff neck, and fatigue, rash, sore throat and intestinal symptoms may also occur.
Symptoms generally appear within one week of exposure.
There are no specific medicines or antibiotics used to treat viral meningitis.
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.