Viral meningitis is a common type of meningitis that occurs due to a virus. It causes inflammation in the membrane that surrounds the spinal cord and brain.

While anyone can get viral meningitis, young children and people with weaker immune systems face a higher risk.

Most individuals fully recover from mild cases without treatment, but more severe meningitis can cause serious complications.

Some cases can be fatal. Viral meningitis can have similar symptoms to bacterial meningitis, which can be severe and require immediate treatment.

This article reviews viral meningitis, including its symptoms, complications, causes, risk factors, and treatment options.

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Symptoms can differ between age groups. Sometimes, it can be challenging to recognize viral meningitis symptoms in babies.

Signs of meningitis in babies can include:

  • fever
  • difficulty waking up from sleep
  • low energy
  • a refusal to eat
  • irritability or crying often

Symptoms in children and adults could include:

These symptoms could appear rapidly.

Most people recover from viral meningitis on their own. However, in some severe cases, the disease can cause complications including:

  • high fever
  • neurological impairments, which can affect how the brain or nervous system functions
  • inflammation of the brain, heart, or their surrounding tissues
  • paralysis
  • death

Learn more about the long-term effects of meningitis.

If a person or their child is experiencing viral meningitis symptoms, they should contact a doctor right away.

While most people recover from viral meningitis on their own, some can develop severe illness.

Viral and bacterial meningitis also have some similar symptoms, and bacterial meningitis is a serious condition that can quickly result in death.

A doctor will be able to diagnose the disease and offer treatment options.

Viral meningitis most commonly results from nonpolio enteroviruses. These viruses can cause a wide variety of infections, though they do tend to be mild.

Enteroviruses that could cause meningitis include:

A person cannot get viral meningitis from another someone else. Instead, they can catch the enterovirus that causes the disease. However, this does not always mean they will also develop viral meningitis.

Enteroviruses can spread in different ways. For example, some can spread by touching the eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands after touching the feces of someone with a virus or a surface with the virus.

Others spread through contact with the eye, nose, or mouth fluids of someone with an infection. Mosquitos can also transmit viruses, like the West Nile virus.

Viral meningitis usually affects younger children but can occur in anyone.

Some factors that can put someone at greater risk include:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with compromised immune systems and infants less than one month old are more at risk of developing severe illness.

Many individuals recover from mild viral meningitis on their own within 7–10 days.

Treatment usually involves supportive care. Management could include medication to address the underlying virus and medications to relieve symptoms.

A doctor may prescribe antibiotics until they can rule out bacterial meningitis.

More severe cases may require hospitalization.

The outlook for viral meningitis is generally good, but it can cause serious complications and death in some cases.

For mild cases, most individuals recover within a few days. Older children and infants can recover fully, even though their sickness could last longer than one week.

Adults usually experience more mild disease than children. Newborns and people with weakened immune systems have a greater chance of developing more severe cases, which could be life threatening.

Prevention strategies tend to focus on avoiding an enterovirus infection in the first instance.

Enteroviruses spread in different ways. General prevention strategies include:

  • thoroughly washing the hands, particularly after diaper changes or using the bathroom
  • not touching the face without washing hands first
  • avoiding mosquito and insect bites
  • vaccination from certain viruses
  • staying home when sick
  • disinfecting commonly touched surfaces
  • avoiding close contact with people who are ill
  • avoiding kissing or sharing utensils, drinks, and other items when ill

Viral and bacterial meningitis can cause similar symptoms. However, a bacterial infection causes bacterial meningitis. It is often severe and always requires immediate treatment.

Bacterial meningitis can quickly result in serious complications. Most people recover, but some can experience long-term effects, such as hearing loss, vision loss, learning difficulties, and brain damage.

Some cases of meningitis can be fatal, so if anyone has symptoms, they should not delay seeking treatment.

Learn more about the difference between both.

Viral meningitis is a common kind of meningitis, which causes inflammation of the membrane surrounding the spinal cord and brain. It can result from infection with certain enteroviruses, like measles, influenza, herpesviruses, and others.

It commonly affects younger children but can develop in anyone. Infants and people with compromised immune systems have a higher chance of being sick with severe disease.

Most individuals recover from mild cases without treatment, but more serious cases can cause serious complications and require hospitalization.

A person should contact a doctor immediately if they or a child experiences symptoms. Viral and bacterial meningitis have many similar symptoms, and bacterial meningitis can quickly lead to death.