More Common But Less Serious: Viral Meningitis

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Viral meningitis is more common than bacterial meningitis but is usually less serious. Most cases are caused by enteroviruses.

Other viral infections that can lead to meningitis include:

  • Mumps and measles
  • Herpersvirus, including herpes-zoster (chickenpox) virus, measles and influenza
  • Viruses spread through mosquitoes and other insects
  • Flaviviruses which can be spread by rodents, mosquitoes or ticks.

In fact, most people will be exposed to any of the above-mentioned viral infections during their lives without developing meningitis.

Symptoms, usually last between 7 and 10 days, typically include:

1) Infant2) Adults
FeverHigh fever
IrritabilitySevere headaches
Poor eatingStiff neck
Hard to awakenSensitivity to bright light
Lethargy
Nausea, vomiting
Lack of appetite

These symptoms are normally mild and mistaken for having the flu.

Most infected individuals will clear the infection without any treatment and not develop any noticeable effects. However, viral meningitis can still cause debilitating complications such as short-term memory loss and attention deficits in some individuals. Children under the age of 1 year may be at risk of developing neurological problems later in life as a result of viral meningitis infection. In addition, individuals infected with viral meningitis are at risk of developing potentially life-threatening complications that are similar to bacterial meningitis. Also, unlike bacterial meningitis, there is no medical treatment available for viral meningitis.

Viral meningitis can affect anyone but some are at higher risk of infection:

  • Infants younger than 1 month old
  • Children younger than 5 years old.
  • Individuals with weakened immune systems – certain diseases, medications and surgical procedures that may weaken the immune system and increase risk of meningitis.

Prevention Is Key Against Viral Meningitis

There is no specific vaccine to present against viral meningitis but you can reduce your risk of infection by ensuring you receive the following vaccines:

  • Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
  • Diphtheria tetanus and pertussis (DTaP)
  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine
  • Polio vaccine (IPV)
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine
  • Japanese encephalitis vaccine

In order to protect your children against viral meningitis, your child should receive these vaccines as part of their childhood immunisation programme. For adults, you should speak with medical practitioner to determine if you are still protected against these diseases or if your vaccines are up to date. For instance, immunity against pertussis from the DTaP has been shown to wane over time. A Tdap booster vaccine is available for adults and adolescents to restore their immunity against pertussis.

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