Most patients recover fully from viral meningitis

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner


By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE



Most patients recover fully from viral meningitis



Dear Pam,

Several children at our school have been diagnosed with Viral Meningitis. Can you give us some information on this so we’ll know what to look for?

Viral Meningitis is a viral infection of the meninges (thin membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord). Viral meningitis is contagious.

Signs and symptoms of viral meningitis include: fever, headache, irritability, eyes that are sensitive to light, stiff neck, vomiting, confusion, lethargy, and drowsiness.

Viruses of several types, including the polio virus can cause viral meningitis.

Fungi, including yeast have also been attributed.

It is also believed that a reaction, probably an autoimmune response following various viral illnesses, such as measles has also caused viral meningitis.

The risk of contracting viral meningitis increases with recent measles, rubella or various types of the flu. Immunosuppressive treatment, such as for cancer or following an organ transplant, poor nutrition, recent illness that has lowered resistance and meningitis epidemics, all increase the risk for viral meningitis. The disease sometimes becomes more severe as it spreads from person to person.

Preventive measures include keeping immunizations up-to-date against all viruses for which vaccines are available. Meningitis vaccines are encouraged for all college students who live in dormitories.

Most patients recover fully in two to seven days from viral meningitis without specific therapy, unlike bacterial meningitis, in which antibiotics may be life-saving.

Possible complications may include permanent brain damage which is rare. Muscle impairment or paralysis which is also uncommon.

Diagnostic tests may include laboratory studies, such as blood-cell counts and examination of the cerebrospinal fluid obtained by lumbar puncture, CT scan or MRI of the brain. Hospital care is usually necessary.

Treatment includes appropriate antibiotics and supportive care for control of symptoms, such as nausea and fever.

If viral meningitis is caused by a virus, there is no medication for it.

The body defenses will usually cure it (although a polio virus may leave permanent damage).

If meningitis is caused by a fungus, antifungal drugs such as amphotericin B, may be prescribed. Avoid aspirin for pain, it may cause bleeding. Anti-nausea drugs and stronger pain medications may be needed.

Those with viral meningitis should rest in bed in a darkened room.

Normal activities can be resumed as soon as symptoms improve.

Encourage them to drink six to eight glasses of fluid daily, even if they don’t feel like it.

Bacterial Meningitis on the other hand is caused by a bacterial infection and can be more severe. Infection in another body part, such as the lung, ear, nose, throat, or sinus can spread to the meninges leading to bacterial meningitis.

A head injury, such as a fractured skull that allows infection to enter can also cause bacterial meningitis. Hospitalization is needed. Intravenous antibiotics are given to treat this condition. Corticosteroids may also be prescribed, and f ull recovery is likely in two to three weeks.

This article was originally published May 3, 2004 in The St. Tammany News.

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