Viral meningitis

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Info bulb.png Prior to the introduction of MMR vaccination, mumps was the commonest cause of viral meningitis in the UK.

Viral meningitis is more common than the bacterial form, but generally less serious - although it can be very debilitating. Many different viruses (including enteroviruses and mumps) can cause it. Antibiotics cannot help viral meningitis.

Viral meningitis can be caused by:

  • Enteroviruses
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • Mumps
  • Varicella zoster virus
  • West Nile virus
  • Lympho-chorio meningitic virus (LCMV)

In mild cases of viral meningitis, people may not even go to their doctor. However, as the symptoms are similar to the bacterial form, someone with a severe case of viral meningitis will need to be admitted to hospital for test to find out which form they are suffering from.

With viral meningitis the patient is generally unwell for a short time, and a full recovery is usually made, and no public health action needs to be taken with regard to the community. There may be short to medium term after effects such as headache, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. More serious consequences, including deafness, are uncommon.

The key investigation is a lumbar puncture to obtain cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF), providing this is not contra-indicated. In viral meningitides, one would expect the CSF to be cellular, with a leucocytosis, possibly raised protein and a normal CSF:serum glucose ratio.

See also