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Viral Meningitis Facts & Information

  • Published: 2012-01-26 (Revised/Updated 2015-03-31) : Wendy Taormina-Weiss (Disabled World).
  • Synopsis: Meningitis caused by viral infection is sometimes referred to as aseptic meningitis a serious condition although rarely fatal in people with average immune systems
Viral Meningitis

Viral Meningitis - Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, the tissues that cover the brain and spinal cord. Infectious meningitis may be caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses. Viral (aseptic) meningitis, the most common form of meningitis, is caused by an infection with one of several types of viruses.

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Quote: "While different viral infections can lead to viral meningitis, the majority of people who get viral meningitis in America, especially during the summer or fall, get it because of the, 'enteroviruses.'"

Meningitis involves an inflammation of the membranes or, "meninges," that cover a person's spinal cord and brain. Viral infections are the most common cause of meningitis, with bacterial infections being the second most common cause. Additional and more rare causes of meningitis include parasites, fungi, and causes that are non-infectious such as ones related to drugs.

Meningitis caused by a viral infection is sometimes referred to as, 'aseptic meningitis,' and is serious, although rarely fatal in people with average immune systems. The symptoms of viral meningitis usually last between 7 and 10 days, and people often experience a complete recovery. Bacterial meningitis is another story - it can be extremely serious and may result in either disability or death if it is not treated quickly. Many times, the symptoms of both viral and bacterial meningitis are the same. Because of this, if you suspect you have meningitis it is crucial to see a doctor as soon as you can.

Causes and Symptoms of Viral Meningitis

While different viral infections can lead to viral meningitis, the majority of people who get viral meningitis in America, especially during the summer or fall, get it because of the, 'enteroviruses.' Enteroviruses include viruses such as coxsackieviruses and echoviruses. Most of the people who are infected with enteroviruses either experience no symptoms at all, or a rash, a cold, or mouth sores and a low-grade fever. It is important to note that only a small number of people with enterovirus end up developing meningitis.

Additional viral infections that may lead to meningitis include herpes-virus, mumps, influenza, measles, and the varicella-zoster virus, which is the cause of both shingles and chickenpox. The arboviruses, which are viruses that insects and mosquitoes spread, also have the potential to cause infections that may lead to viral meningitis. The, 'lymphocytic choriomeningitis,' virus, a virus spread by rodents, is also a cause of viral meningitis, although it is rare.

The symptoms related to viral meningitis can show up rapidly, or take a number of days to appear; commonly after a person has a cold or a runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, or other signs first. The symptoms adults experience might be different from the ones children do. The symptoms related to viral meningitis can include:

Symptoms in Infants:

  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Poor eating
  • Hard to wake up

Symptoms in Older Children/Adults

  • Nausea
  • Stiff neck
  • Vomiting
  • High fever
  • Sleepiness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Severe headache
  • Trouble waking up
  • Sensitivity to bright light

Diagnosing Viral Meningitis

A diagnosis of viral meningitis is usually achieved through laboratory tests of a person's spinal fluid, gained through a, 'spinal tap.' The test has the potential to show whether or not a person is infected with a bacterium or a virus. Finding the exact cause of viral meningitis can sometimes be achieved through tests that show which virus a person is infected with, although identifying the exact virus causing meningitis can be difficult.

Due to the fact that the symptoms of viral meningitis are similar to the ones of bacterial meningitis which is often more severe and has the potential to be fatal, it is important for people who are suspected of having meningitis to pursue medical care, and have their spinal fluid tested.

Unfortunately, there is no specific form of treatment for viral meningitis. The majority of people with viral meningitis recover on their own within a couple of weeks. Antibiotics do not help with viral infections and are not useful in treating viral meningitis. A doctor will many times simply recommend that a person get plenty of rest, fluids, and medicine to relieve symptoms such as headache and fever. For people with weak immune systems and more severe cases of meningitis, a hospital stay might be involved.

The Spread of Viral Meningitis

The different viruses that cause viral meningitis are spread in different ways. Enteroviruses, for example, are the most common cause of viral meningitis and are most often spread through direct contact with the stool of a person who is infected. The virus is spread in this manner, largely among younger children who have yet to be toilet-trained. Enteroviruses may also be spread to adults who change the diapers of infants who have been infected.

The mumps, varicella-zoster, and enteroviruses can also spread through either direct or indirect contact with respiratory secretions such as sputum, saliva, or nasal mucus from a person who has been infected. These viruses spread through shaking hands or kissing for example, or through touching something an infected person has handled and rubbing one's own mouth or nose. The viruses may also remain on surfaces for days, transferring from other objects, or spread directly when a person who is infected coughs or sneezes, sending droplets containing the virus into the air another person breathes.

The period of time involved from when a person first becomes infected until they develop symptoms is referred to as the, 'incubation period.' The incubation period for enteroviruses is between 3 and 7 days. A person who is infected is commonly contagious from the time they first develop symptoms until they no longer experience symptoms. People with low immune systems and children might spread the infection even after their symptoms have disappeared.

If a person near you has developed viral meningitis, the potential exists that you are also at risk of becoming infected with the virus that made them ill. Bear in mind the chance is small of you developing meningitis as a complication of the illness.

Preventing Viral Meningitis

Preventing the various viral infections that are out there from infecting you involves some specific measures. Following good hygiene practices can help you to reduce the spread of viruses like measles, mumps, herpes viruses, and enteroviruses. Preventing the spread of these viruses can be hard because people who have become infected may not seem to be sick and have the ability to spread them to other people. Following these good hygiene practices will help to reduce your chances of becoming infected with a virus, or giving one so someone else:

Clean Surfaces that are Contaminated: Clean doorknobs, handles, the TV remote control - clean them with soap and water and then disinfect them with a bleach-based cleaning product or a solution of 1/4 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water.

Cover Your Cough: Viruses that cause viral meningitis can spread through either direct or indirect contact with respiratory secretions; it is important to cover your cough with a tissue or at least your upper arm. Once you have used a tissue, throw it away. Wash Your Hands!

Things To Avoid: Avoid sharing eating utensils, drinking glasses, or other items with people who are sick or others if you are sick. Avoid bites from insects and mosquitoes that have the potential to carry diseases that can infect you - it can help to reduce your risk for viral meningitis.

Vaccinations: There are vaccinations that can help to protect children against some of the diseases that may lead to viral meningitis, such as the measles and mumps vaccine (MMR), and the chickenpox vaccine.

Wash Your Hands: Wash your hands thoroughly, and wash them often. It is particularly important to wash your hands after using the toilet, changing a diaper, blowing your nose, or coughing.



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