Viral meningitis, also known as aseptic meningitis, is a type of meningitis due to a viral infection. It results in inflammation of the meninges (the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). Symptoms commonly include headache, fever, sensitivity to light and neck stiffness.
Viruses are the most common cause of aseptic meningitis. Most cases of viral meningitis are caused by enteroviruses (common stomach viruses). However, other viruses can also cause viral meningitis, such as West Nile virus, mumps, measles, herpes simplex types I and II, varicella and lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) virus. Based on clinical symptoms, viral meningitis cannot be reliably differentiated from bacterial meningitis, although viral meningitis typically follows a more benign clinical course. Viral meningitis has no evidence of bacteria present in cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). Therefore, lumbar puncture with CSF analysis is often needed to identify the disease.
In most cases, there is no specific treatment, with efforts generally aimed at relieving symptoms (headache, fever or nausea). A few viral causes, such as HSV, have specific treatments.
In the United States, viral meningitis is the cause of more than half of all cases of meningitis. With the prevalence of bacterial meningitis in decline, the viral disease is garnering more and more attention. The estimated incidence has a considerable range, from 0.26 to 17 cases per 100,000 people. For enteroviral meningitis, the most common cause of viral meningitis, there are up to 75,000 cases annually in the United States alone. While the disease can occur in both children and adults, it is more common in children.