Is Aseptic Meningitis?
Meningitis is a condition that causes the tissues covering your
brain and spinal cord to become inflamed. Sometimes, the inflammation can occur
as a result of a bacterial infection. This is known as bacterial meningitis. When
the inflammation isn’t caused by bacteria, the condition is called aseptic
meningitis. Viruses cause the vast majority of aseptic meningitis cases, which
is why the condition is also known as viral meningitis.
Aseptic meningitis is more common than bacterial meningitis, but
its symptoms are usually less severe. Serious complications are rare and most
people completely recover within two weeks after the onset of symptoms.
Causes Aseptic Meningitis?
About half of all aseptic meningitis cases are caused by common
seasonal viruses in the late summer and early fall. Viruses that can cause aseptic
meningitis include the following:
You can catch these viruses by coming into contact with an
infected person’s cough, saliva, or fecal matter. You can also get some of
these viruses from a mosquito bite.
In rare cases, other conditions can lead to aseptic meningitis.
Aseptic meningitis may develop rapidly or over the course of
several weeks, depending on the type of organism that caused the condition.
Is at Risk of Developing Aseptic Meningitis?
Anyone can get aseptic meningitis, but the highest rates occur
among children under age 5. The vaccines that protect children from bacterial
meningitis aren’t always effective against aseptic meningitis, which is caused
by viruses and other organisms.
Children who attend school or day care are at an increased risk
of catching a virus that can cause aseptic meningitis. Adults who work in theses
facilities are also at risk.
People are more likely to develop meningitis if they have a
condition that weakens their immune system, such as AIDS or diabetes.
Are the Symptoms of Aseptic Meningitis?
The symptoms of aseptic meningitis can vary depending on the virus
or medical condition that caused it. Sometimes, the symptoms won’t emerge until
the original condition has run its course.
In general, however, the symptoms of aseptic meningitis in
children and adults include:
- a fever
- a stomachache
- a painful headache
- body aches
- sensitivity to light, or photophobia
- a loss of appetite
Infants and toddlers may show the following symptoms:
- a fever
- irritability and frequent crying
- poor eating
- sleepiness or trouble waking up after sleeping
Aseptic meningitis is often a mild condition, and you may recover
without medication or treatment. Since many of the symptoms are similar to
those of the common cold or flu, you may never even know that you had aseptic meningitis.
This makes aseptic meningitis different from bacterial meningitis, which causes
severe symptoms and may be life-threatening.
However, you should still seek medical treatment if you suspect
that you or your child has aseptic meningitis. Without a medical exam, it can
be difficult to tell what type of meningitis you have in the early stages. Aseptic
meningitis can also cause dangerous complications in some cases, and it’s
important for your doctor to monitor your condition until you recover.
You should call your doctor as soon as possible if you or your
child has any of the following symptoms:
- a stiff, painful neck
- a debilitating, persistent headache
- mental confusion
These may be signs of another, more serious medical condition.
Is Aseptic Meningitis Diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you have meningitis, they’ll order
certain tests to determine whether you have aseptic meningitis or bacterial
In most cases, your doctor will perform a lumbar puncture or
spinal tap. A spinal tap, which extracts cerebrospinal fluid from your spine, is
the only definitive way to diagnosis meningitis. Spinal fluid is made by the
brain and surrounds the brain and spinal cord to protect it. Your spinal fluid will
have high protein levels and an increased white blood cell count if you have
meningitis. This fluid can also help your doctor determine whether bacteria, viruses,
or other infectious agents are causing the meningitis.
Your doctor may also order additional tests to determine the
specific virus that caused the aseptic meningitis. These tests can include
blood tests or imaging tests, such as X-rays and CT scans.
Is Aseptic Meningitis Treated?
Treatment options may vary depending on the specific cause of the
meningitis. Most people with aseptic meningitis completely recover without specific
medical treatment within one to two weeks.
You’ll be instructed to rest, drink plenty of water, and take medications
to help relieve your symptoms. Analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications may
be recommended for pain and fever control. Your doctor might also prescribe
specific medications if the aseptic meningitis was caused by a fungal infection
or by a treatable virus, such as herpes.
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
Very few people with aseptic meningitis end up with a lasting
illness. The majority of cases resolve within one to two weeks after the onset
In rare cases, aseptic meningitis can lead to brain infections.
Complications are more likely to occur if you don’t seek treatment for your
condition. They may also arise if you have an underlying condition that weakens
your immune system.
Can Aseptic Meningitis Be Prevented?
You and your children should get vaccinated for certain viruses
that can cause aseptic meningitis, such as chickenpox and mumps. It’s also
important to practice good hygiene to reduce your risk of getting meningitis.
Wash your hands before meals and after using the restroom, and teach your
children to do the same. Always cover your mouth before sneezing or coughing.
You should also avoid sharing drinks or food with others, especially when you’re
in a group setting.
You can also prevent meningitis by making sure you get plenty of
rest, maintain a healthy diet, and avoid contact with others who have symptoms
of a cold or the flu.