Viral meningitis: what is it and how do we contract it?

It is an infection of the meninges, the thin wall that covers the brain and spinal cord.

It can be caused by various viruses and is usually preceded by another disease like mumps or an infection caused by herpes. Those viruses can be transmitted by close human contact or by touching an object manipulated by an infected person or even by an insect bite.

Most viral meningitis affect children under five years old but older children, teenagers and adults can also be affected.

  • Sudden onset of high fever
  • Significant and notable behavioural changes
  • Frequent drowsiness and fatigue
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Loss of appetite and vomiting
  • Stiff neck and neck pain

Symptoms are harder to recognize in toddlers less than a year old but they are the same. The child also finds it difficult to wake up after a nap and he may have a bulging fontanel after other symptoms appear.

Healing and treatment

Viral meningitis usually lasts between seven and ten days and often disappear without medication.

In fact, there is no specific medical treatment since antibiotics have no effect on viruses. However, you can ease the symptoms by giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen to your child.

Can we prevent viral meningitis?

Because many viruses that cause meningitis are found on yours hands, the first recommendation is to frequently wash hands with water and soap, especially after going to the toilet, after changing a diaper or before preparing food or eating.

Bacterial meningitis

Fifty different bacteria can cause this type of meningitis and the treatment with antibiotics is effective against most of them.

Also, there are, on average, only 1,000 cases of bacterial meningitis each year in Canada and babies, young children, the elderly and some high-risk individuals can be immunized with a vaccine.

It is transmitted by direct oral contact: a kiss or respiratory droplets sneezed by an infected person.

The symptoms are the same as those of viral meningitis, that is to say sudden fever, significant and notable behavioural changes, frequent drowsiness and fatigue, irritability and restlessness, loss of appetite and vomiting and stiff neck and neck pain.

The doctor may decide to hospitalize a child who is severely infected. Untreated bacterial meningitis can lead to serious after-effects such as blindness, deafness, paralysis and mental retardation.

Because the symptoms of viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis are similar, it is best to consult when they appear in your children to ensure that he is not suffering from bacterial meningitis, which is more serious.

Source: Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada, Montreal Children’s Hospital, Public Health Service, Sudbury District Health Unit, Atlantic Health Sciences Corporation

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