Viral meningitis is the most popular type of meningitis, not because it is fatal, but due to its widespread prevalence. Despite being the most common type of meningitis, viral meningitis is milder compared to bacterial meningitis, which is good news. People can even get better on their own without treatment! This does not mean that seeing the doctor is not required; quite the contrary because the doctor is the only one who is qualified to determine the cause of the symptoms, and only he can differentiate between the different types of meningitis using history, clinical examination, and various tests.
Despite being milder than bacterial meningitis, viral meningitis is associated with risk factors such as being too old or too young or having lower immunity for any cause, which allows viral meningitis to be fatal and lead to death. Because of this, we should pay extra attention to people with conditions that can disrupt their body’s ability to fight diseases. Many viruses can reach the meninges causing viral meningitis, but the most common types are:
- Enteroviruses, especially non-polio types of Enterovirus. These viruses are common in the period between the ends of spring and the beginning of fall. This is why many doctors see viral meningitis as a seasonal disease. You can see that for yourself when you look at the trend of the disease. Unfortunately, this period correlates with school-time, so extra care is required to this age group to protect them and detect any cases early and stop any source of an epidemic.
- Despite the non-polio type of Enterovirus being the most common, other types can cause viral meningitis like mumps virus, herpes viruses, measles virus, and even influenza virus, among others.
Viral meningitis can spread by close contacting a diseased person; this is why early detection of cases is critical because at the beginning of the disease, it is very hard for nonprofessional and even some doctors to classify meningitis. Early detection of cases protects other individuals, in particular people with low immunity who can get the infection more easily due to their compromised immune system. Fortunately, it is much harder to get viral meningitis because the viruses are weak, so it is still somewhat unlikely.
What makes viral meningitis dangerous is its early general symptoms that look very similar to a cold or sore throat. This increases the probability of neglect from parents and schoolteachers. If this happens, the infected child with viral meningitis may still go to school even when he is sick, which can lead to more cases of viral meningitis at school.
Early symptoms of the disease include:
- Anorexia (low appetite)
Other more alarming symptoms that require early medical help include:
- A stiff neck
- Photosensitivity (patients who cannot look directly at the light)
- Vomiting, especially if it is projectile.
If we wish to make a distinction between viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis, especially in the symptoms, we can say that in general, bacterial meningitis symptoms are more severe and may be associated with other fatal illness caused by bacteria, such as sepsis (presence of the bacteria and its toxins in the bloodstream).
High fever is also more commonly associated with bacterial meningitis than viral meningitis.
Nevertheless, in many cases, the symptoms may start mild in bacterial meningitis and fool the patient into believing that it is viral meningitis or even a cold.
This is why seeking medical care, especially if you have any risk factor that causes your immune system to be below the average, is the best option for you.