Meningitis is an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. People sometimes refer to meningitis as spinal meningitis. Meningitis can be caused by a virus or by non-viral agents (such as a bacterium or a fungus). Different viruses can lead to viral meningitis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most aseptic (viral) meningitis cases in the United States, particularly during the summer and fall months, are caused by enteroviruses (which include enteroviruses, coxsackieviruses, and echoviruses). Only a small number of people with enterovirus infections develop meningitis.
Other viral infections that can lead to aseptic (viral) meningitis include mumps, infection with herpes family viruses (such as Epstein-Barr virus, herpes simplex viruses, and varicella-zoster virus—the cause of chickenpox and shingles), measles, and influenza.
Most aseptic (viral) meningitis cases are caused by a virus.
The different viruses that can cause viral meningitis can be spread to other people in many ways. The most common viruses are spread through direct or indirect contact with saliva or mucuses from the nose or lungs. Viruses can also be spread when a person comes in contact with feces of an infected person such as when changing a diaper or using the toilet.
Aseptic (viral) meningitis is serious but rarely fatal in healthy people with normal immune systems. Usually, symptoms last from 7 to 10 days and the patient recovers completely.
People with this condition may have the following symptoms:
- Neck stiffness
- Sensitivity to light
- Increased sleepiness
- Nausea, vomiting
- Lack of appetite
To prevent spreading viruses that can cause aseptic meningitis, be sure to:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- Keep current on all recommended vaccinations
See the CDC’s website, Stopping the Spread of Germs at Home, Work & School, (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/stopgerms.htm) for more information on good health and hygiene practices.
Aseptic (viral) meningitis is not normally as severe as bacterial meningitis. People with aseptic meningitis usually do not need to take medication. With bed rest and by increasing their fluid intake, people with this condition will usually recover on their own. However, it is important to consult with your healthcare provider.
School Exclusion Policy
Children with viral or aseptic meningitis should be kept out of school until they are fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever suppressing medications. Rules for exclusion of sick children from school and childcare are outlined in the Texas Administrative Code, specifically Rule 97.7 for schools and Rule 746.3603 for childcare.
Recent Texas Trends
Aseptic (viral) meningitis was last reportable in Texas in 2012. From 2003-2012, the incidence rate of aseptic meningitis showed a downward trend. From 2007-2012, incidence rates were highest in children, especially infants.