While viral meningitis might seem to be a bit less threatening than bacterial meningitis, it is still a disease you're going to be much more comfortable avoiding rather than conquering head on. Your head, in fact, might thank you for it as well. Primarily spread by contact between humans as a result of poor hygiene, its rapid onset of symptoms and possible two-week life span might cause you to wish you had listened to your mother a bit more attentively when it came to her suggestions about regular hand-washing!
Viral meningitis is caused by a number of different viruses, many of which are associated with other diseases, such as mumps. According to the CDC, enteroviruses, such as coxsackieviruses and echoviruses, are to blame for most cases of viral meningitis. Mosquitoborne viruses also cause some cases each year.
Like bacterial meningitis, viral meningitis is an infection of the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid. Unlike its cousin, however, viral meningitis is usually a relatively mild disease. The viruses that cause it are spread through direct contact with infected people. The CDC estimates there are between 25,000 and 50,000 hospitalizations due to viral meningitis every year.
Sudden symptoms that mimic the flu, particularly in children, are a telltale sign of viral meningitis. These symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, neck stiffness, and sensitivity to light. Because different viruses can cause the illness, the length of time it takes to heal can vary from just a few days to two weeks.
Who Is At Risk?
Anyone can get viral meningitis, but it occurs most often in children and young adults.
Because a virus causes viral meningitis, antibiotics are not an effective treatment. Those who are infected with the virus can be treated at home and usually improve without medical intervention. You can help prevent the spread of viral meningitis by:
- Washing your hands thoroughly and often
- Avoiding contact with the saliva or mucus of an infected person
- Not sharing utensils, cups, and food
- Disinfecting common surfaces in bathrooms and kitchens with soap and hot water or a bleach-based household cleaner
- Keeping toys separate and regularly disinfected
- Avoiding mosquito bites by wearing insect repellent, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts
Over the past decade, much of the attention paid to brain disease in our news media has centered on progressive Alzheimer's. Yet there still exist transmittable and preventable illnesses of the brain whose severity and rapid-onset, should not be overlooked. In fact, some of these diseases reach epidemic proportions regularly, with some regions of Africa even having "seasons" where the illness spreads for months among the population.
These diseases, which include bacterial meningitis, encephalitis, mosquito-borne meningitis, viral meningitis and rabies each affect the brain and most are fatal. The fortunate thing is, many of these unique diseases of the brain are preventable with a combination of good hygiene, vaccination and a in the case of rabies, reduction of risky contact with wild animals. Protect yourself by continuing to educate yourself and your family about the risks associated with these brain infections and stay healthy!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Laurie L. Dove is an award winning Kansas-based journalist and author whose work has been published internationally. A dedicated consumer advocate, Dove specializes in writing about health, parenting, fitness and travel. An active member of the National Federation of Press Women, Dove also is the former owner of a parenting magazine and a weekly newspaper.
Dr. Larry Lutwick is a Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York - Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, New York and Director of Infectious Diseases, Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, Brooklyn Campus. He is also Bacterial Diseases Moderator for the real time online infectious diseases surveillance system, Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED-mail) and has authored more than 100 medical articles and 15 book chapters. He has edited two books on infectious diseases.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.