Viral meningitis is more common than the bacterial form, but generally less serious although it can be very debilitating. It can be caused by many different viruses. Some are spread between people by coughing or sneezing, or through poor hygiene (e.g not washing your hands after going to the toilet). Others can be found in sewage-polluted water. The incubation period can be up to three weeks. In mild cases of viral meningitis, people may not even go to their doctor. Therefore it is difficult to say exactly how many cases there are of viral meningitis. The symptoms can be similar to the bacterial form and someone with a severe case of viral meningitis will need to be admitted to hospital for tests to find out which form they are suffering from. Diarrhoea can also occur with mild viral meningitis.
The commonest causes of viral meningitis are coxsackie and
echoviruses (often known as enteroviruses). Meningitis can also
develop as a result of infection with herpes simplex, measles, polio or chickenpox. Meningitis used to be a complication of mumps, but has virtually been eliminated following the introduction of effective vaccines.
These viruses are the commonest causes of viral meningitis and they can be found in the intestines of humans, and therefore in faeces and sewage-polluted water. Most cases occur in the summer months.
The herpes virus is widespread and usually produces cold sores, but can very occasionally cause viral meningitis or encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain itself.
Contact with a person who is suffering from viral meningitis does
not increase an individuals chances of developing the disease.
Although the initial virus (e.g. Chicken Pox) is infectious, this does not mean that the virus will eventually cause inflammation of the brain lining (meningitis).
Viral meningitis cannot be helped by antibiotics and treatment is based on good nursing care. Recovery is normally complete, but headaches, tiredness and depression may persist for weeks or even months.