Viral meningitis, as the name suggests, is a virus-borne inflammation of meninges (membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). It is more common in children under five years of age, though it can affect people of all ages. The prognosis can vary, though mostly it’s mild and curable. A challenging question, is it deadly?
What actually is viral meningitis?
Meningitis is caused by two categories, infectious and non-infectious causes. Viral infections are the most common cause of the disease. In other words, viral meningitis is the most common form of meningitis. Other infectious causes include bacterial and fungal infections.
How about non-infectious causes? These include non-infectious diseases (such as certain cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus), injury, or certain medications. But non-infectious meningitis is not common (rare).
There are several types of virus that can lead to meningitis. The main ones are as follows:
- Enteroviruses, especially such as coxsackievirus and echovirus. They are to blame for the majority cases of viral meningitis. About 75,000 cases of meningitis every year in the United States are caused by enteroviruses, according to an issue released by the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. In 2008, it accounted about 80 percent of viral meningitis in adults, according to a report in the British Medical Journal.
- Herpes viruses, which include HSVs (herpes simplex viruses) and HZV (varicella zoster virus). Meningitis associated with these viruses is more common in developed countries. It often affects adolescents & adults.
- HIV, human immunodeficiency virus. People with HIV can have meningitis during the early stage of their HIV infection.
- What else? In less common cases, it can be caused by West Nile virus, measles viruses, and Saint Louis encephalitis. Even in people with compromised immune system, sometimes the disease could be triggered by mild condition such as influenza.
Viral meningitis is contagious, but …
Like any viruses, meningitis-causing viruses can easily spread from person to person. Enteroviruses, for example, are present in the mucus, saliva, and feces – they can be easily passed through a direct contact with an infected individual.
Herpes virus can also spread. You can get it through a contact with an infected area (such as skin) of an infected person, especially when the virus is active (during an outbreak). Other viruses may spread in different ways.
Environmental factor may have an effect, too. Viruses are more likely to spread in temperate climates, such as during summer and autumn. In subtropical and tropical climates, the transmission rates can be high all year long.
The good news, people get infected by meningitis-causing viruses don’t always develop the disease. Even there are only a small number of them will eventually develop the disease, according to CDC (the Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
In many cases, the body immune system is often successful to drive away the virus before it turns into meningitis. In other words, the viruses can spread but this would be very unlikely to make another person to develop the disease as well.
It seems that the risk of developing viral meningitis varies from person to person. In general, the disease is more likely to affect people with some of the following risk factors:
- The disease is more common in babies and young children (under 5 years of age), though it can affect anyone including adults.
- A person with weakened immune system. When the body immune system doesn’t work as well as usual, the body is more vulnerable to infection.
- Skipping vaccinations. Some vaccinations for meningitis are available – ask a doctor for more guidance! Skipping these vaccines increases the risk of developing the disease.
The way of how the disease develops may vary. But in most cases, the disease starts with symptoms of a viral infection – for examples; fever, a general feeling of being ill (malaise), changes in appetite, cough, headache, and muscle aches. Sometimes, there is no any symptom at first.
Symptoms can also be similar to those for bacterial meningitis, but typically less severe. Other symptoms include more sensitive to light, neck stiffness, and drowsiness.
Is viral meningitis dangerous or even ‘deadly’?
Many times, it is not dangerous and resolves within a few weeks. Home treatments are often enough to cope with. Even it may also resolve without treatment in some cases.
Though it is usually mild, the prognosis varies. Sometimes it could be dangerous in people with compromised immune system. Babies and young children are also more likely to have greater disease severity since their body immune system is not yet fully developed – and therefore they may require comfort care to control symptoms.
The kind of meningitis-causing virus can also have an effect on how long it takes to heal. If it’s caused by caused by West Nile virus, for example, it may take months to clear up.
To keep safe, don’t underestimate the problem! According to some studies, it could lead to some of the following after effects: