The Link between Viral Meningitis and Diabetes

Viral meningitis is an inflammation of meninges (protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord) caused by viral infections. Diabetes is a chronic disorder that affects the way of your body to metabolize glucose. They are different type of health conditions. However, diabetes may have an effect on your risk to have infectious diseases including viral meningitis. Is there a link between the two?


Glucose (sugar in the blood) is the main source of your energy, though you can also get energy from fat and protein. It circulates in the circulation (bloodstream) so cells of your body can absorb and use it for energy. Mainly, it comes from the food you eat.

Insulin, a chemical /hormone released by your pancreas, is responsible to control the amounts of glucose in the blood. It can drive glucose from the circulation to easily enter into the cells of the body. During or after eating, for example, your blood glucose level increases significantly. But soon your pancreas releases more insulin to decreases the level.

The problem occurs when the body cannot use glucose effectively. Having diabetes means that your blood glucose level is higher than normal. Too much glucose in the blood can be very dangerous or even life-threatening.

In people with diabetes, there is something wrong with their insulin. Type-2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, is usually associated with the lack of insulin released by the pancreas – or the body’s cells are more resistant to the action of insulin.

Type-1 diabetes is much less common than type-2. In general, it is more difficult to manage since the pancreas can lose its function to produce insulin. In the worst scenario, the pancreas cannot make any insulin. Therefore it’s also called ‘insulin-dependent diabetes’ – it often requires insulin therapy.

How does viral meningitis occur?

There are several types of meningitis, and the most common one is viral meningitis. But though viral meningitis is common, it’s often less serious. Even many times, it can naturally heal in time without leaving lingering after effects (typically, hospitalization is not required).

It can strike anytime, though mostly it occurs in the late summer and during fall. Since it has flu-like symptoms, you may mistakenly identify it for the flu. The symptoms are usually mild, these include; bright-light sensitivity, headache, stiff neck, fatigue, and nausea.

There are several viruses that can lead to infection and inflammation of meninges. But in most cases, viral meningitis is caused by a group of viruses called ‘enteroviruses’.

Viruses that cause meningitis

Enteroviruses are not the only one to blame. In less common cases, the disease can also be caused by the following viruses:

  1. Herpes simplex virus.
  2. Epstein-Barr virus, which causes the most common cause of mononucleosis. Typically, it spreads through kissing, sneezing, or coughing.
  3. Varicella zoster virus, which is also often to blame for shingles and chickenpox.
  4. HIV infection. During the course of AIDs, chronic viral meningitis without known cause can occur any time.
  5. Mumps, influenza, or measles viruses can also sometimes cause inflamed meninges, especially in people who don’t take vaccinations for these viruses.
  6. Some viruses that cause viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu).
  7. Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, commonly found in rodent urine /feces, might also cause meningitis – especially in people with a weakened immune system.
  8. It’s also possible to have meningitis from viruses transmitted by certain insects such as; mosquitos in North America (Saint Louis encephalitis virus), ticks in certain parts of Asia and Europe (Encephalitis viruses), and mosquitoes in certain parts of America (West Nile virus),

Many of these viruses can spread (contagious). But though viral meningitis is contagious, actually it’s not easy to be passed from person to person.

Enteroviruses, for example, can be easily transmitted between people. The good news, only a small number of people infected with these viruses will develop meningitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The same goes for viruses that cause viral gastroenteritis – most people who get infected by these viruses don’t get meningitis.

Another infectious-type of meningitis is bacterial meningitis. Though it’s less common, but it can be a very serious infectious disease (this is particularly true if you don’t get prompt treatment immediately).  Sometimes the symptoms can be similar to those of viral meningitis, but more severe and progress aggressively (see more the symptoms in here).

Viral meningitis and diabetes

It seems that the risk of developing viral meningitis varies for each person. One of the main reasons is the strength of your body’s immune system. In fact people with weakened immune system are at higher risk of having infectious disease, including meningitis.

Having certain conditions or taking medications that impair with your immune system can also increase the risk – AIDS, not working spleen, and taking immunosuppressant for examples. How about diabetes?

We know well that diabetes can significantly affect your metabolism, especially the way of the body to use glucose for energy. But did you know that it might also affect the body’s immune system? Even in type-1 diabetes, for example, the body’s immune system gets malfunctioned and mistakenly destroys insulin producing cells of pancreas.

People with diabetes (also called diabetics) are more likely to have a weak immune response. In general their immune response is much lower compared with the general population. So they are more susceptible to getting various types of infectious diseases.

The skin and urinary tract are the most common sites of infection in diabetics. Diabetes can also put you at higher risk of getting infectious meningitis such as viral meningitis, and this is especially true if you also have other meningitis risk factors such as: