What is viral meningitis?
Meningitis is an infection of the lining and fluid covering the brain and spinal cord. It is caused by bacteria or by a virus. This fact sheet deals with meningitis caused by viruses.
Viral meningitis occurs most often during the summer and early fall, when the most common viruses that cause meningitis are circulating. These viruses infect children and adults and cause symptoms similar to the common cold. Few people who are infected with the virus actually develop viral meningitis.
Viral meningitis is a reportable disease in Ontario.
What are the symptoms of viral meningitis?
- neck pain and stiffness
- pain when looking at bright lights
- nausea and/or vomiting
- poor appetite
- tiredness and sleepiness
You should see a health care provider if the illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is viral meningitis spread?
Many viruses are spread easily from person to person through kissing and when drops of saliva from coughing or sneezing reach another person’s nose or mouth. This saliva could also land on objects and surfaces and can be picked up by someone else’s hands and spread to their nose and mouth, causing infection. Some viruses can live for hours on surfaces.
Some viruses can also be found in the stool of people who are infected. Hands can become contaminated after using the toilet or changing a diaper of someone with viral meningitis and can spread the infection that way.
How is viral meningitis treated?
Most cases of viral meningitis are not serious. Most people usually recover on their own in one to two weeks. Antibiotic treatments are not effective against viral meningitis because it is not caused by bacteria.
Some people with more serious infections may be treated with special medications prescribed by a health care provider.
You can treat mild symptoms at home.
How is viral meningitis prevented?
Most of the time viral meningitis cannot be prevented. However, washing your hands regularly is recommended, since many viruses enter the body when your hands touch your mouth. Simple preventative measures can reduce the spread of infection.