Meningitis is an infection of the protective membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, known as the meninges. The meninges are responsible for protecting the brain from injury. When they become infected or inflamed, they can disrupt the proper function of the brain and spinal cord. Whilst viral meningitis is often less severe than bacterial meningitis, it is important to have an awareness of the symptoms, causes and treatment as the after-effects can be life-changing.
This Viral Meningitis Week, which runs from 7 – 13 May 2018, the charity Meningitis Now is calling for people who have suffered from the viral form of the infection and their families to be ‘vocal about viral’ in an effort to banish misconceptions and raise awareness of the symptoms.
The symptoms of viral meningitis depend on the virus from which the infection derives. Usually, viral meningitis only causes mild, cold or flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea and vomiting. However, as the meninges become inflamed, pressure on the brain can increase and cause more severe symptoms such as light aversion/photophobia, neck stiffness, confusion, drowsiness and lethargy, loss of consciousness and seizures.
While a number of different viruses can cause the infection, the following are the five most common:
Since antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, there are no therapies for most of the causes of meningitis. Treatment is therefore focused on easing symptoms of the infection. It is important to remain hydrated, rest and take regular pain relief as required. In severe cases, hospitalisation may be required in order to carry out a lumbar puncture to confirm a diagnosis of meningitis and determine the underlying virus.
While most people are able to recover without any medical treatment whatsoever within 5-14 days and without any noticeable after-effects, some may be left with more debilitating symptoms. The most common of these include short-term memory loss, attention deficits, exhaustion, headaches, dizziness/balance problems and hearing difficulties. Occasionally, where young children have been exposed to viral meningitis under one year of age, subtle neurological problems may develop in later life. In rare cases, personality changes, sight problems, learning difficulties and language problems have been reported.
Viral meningitis is much less understood than bacterial meningitis. Those who have been affected by viral meningitis often feel that they are not taken seriously and face recovery alone. Raising awareness can help support people who need assistance to develop a better understanding of the virus.
The clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches often deals with both viral and bacterial meningitis cases where there has either been a delay in diagnosis or substandard treatment. If you have concerns regarding either of these issues, a member of the specialist team would be happy to discuss them with you.