Viral meningitis is an infection of the tissues covering the brain caused by one of several types of viruses. Most individuals are exposed to these viruses at some point in their lives, but few people get viral meningitis. Viral meningitis occurs more often in children than in adults.
The symptoms include sudden fever, severe headache, muscle aches and sore throat. This is followed, usually within a day, by stiffness of the neck and back, nausea, and vomiting, especially in children. These symptoms typically fade 3 to 7 days after onset. Most patients recover completely from viral meningitis.
Some viruses causing meningitis are spread through direct contact with fluids from the nose and throat of persons who are infected. Other viruses are found in the stools of infected people. These are commonly spread among small children and their caretakers when the hands are not cleaned well after toileting or diaper changing.
It is important to differentiate between bacterial and viral meningitis. Your physician may take clinical samples such as blood, throat or nose swabs, rectal swab or stool, and in some cases spinal cord fluid.
There are no specific medicines available to treat viral meningitis. Most people who get mild viral meningitis completely recover on their own usually within 7 to 10 days. Meningitis caused by certain viruses such as herpesvirus and influenza may require antiviral medicine.
There are no licensed vaccines for the non-polio enteroviruses that cause the majority of aseptic meningitis cases.
Viral meningitis occurs year-round in Hawaii, but there are usually more cases in the summer and early fall.
Because most persons who are infected with the viruses that cause viral meningitis do not become ill, it can be difficult to prevent the spread of the virus. Maintaining good personal hygiene can help you stay healthy. The best way to prevent this illness is to wash your hands thoroughly and often, especially after using the toilet or changing diapers and before eating. Because some viral meningitis is caused by intestinal viruses that are passed in the stools, children with viral meningitis who are not yet toilet trained should not attend school or day care unless they have written permission to return from a physician.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Viral Meningitis
Mayo Clinic – Meningitis
Hawaii State Department of Health Viral Meningitis Factsheet (PDF)