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The meninges are blood-filled membranes that protect a person’s spinal cord and the area around their brain. Viral meningitis is what happens when the meninges become infected with a virus. There are other kinds of meningitis that aren’t viral, but the viral variety is more common. Several different viruses have the potential to cause viral meningitis.
Most viral meningitis cases are caused by a family of viruses called enteroviruses. Sometimes other viruses can cause it as well, including the herpes virus and certain mosquito-borne viruses. Most people are actually semi-immune to many of the viruses that can cause viral meningitis, so even if they are exposed, they usually won’t become sick.
Generally speaking, viral meningitis is contagious. The method of transmission can be very different depending on the specific virus involved. Some require contact with fecal matter, and some can be spread from contact with another person’s phlegm. It is possible for a person to avoid spreading viral meningitis by limiting physical contact with other people, washing hands after using the restroom, and covering the face when sneezing or coughing.
When people catch viral meningitis, they often become irritable. They may develop a fever, and sometimes they become sick to their stomachs and start vomiting. One of the signature symptoms is a stiffness in the neck, and many people can’t stand bright lights. Another common symptom is a general feeling of fatigue along with a headache. Symptoms usually develop within seven days of being exposed to the virus.
The only real treatment for viral meningitis is to wait. Like most viruses, there are no actual cures other than letting the body’s immune system fight it off. Viral meningitis isn’t usually a very big problem, and people are generally able to get over the sickness within a couple of weeks. Some forms of bacterial meningitis are much more dangerous, and the symptoms can be very similar. It’s important for individuals to take any signs of meningitis very seriously and get medical attention as soon as possible, because there is no way to be absolutely sure if it is the viral or bacterial variety.
Most cases of viral meningitis happen in children. Sometimes it can be difficult to spot the symptoms in young children. When doctors are trying to diagnose the disease, they will usually take a sample of spinal fluid and perform tests on it. In some cases, they may also do a blood test.