Bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms can invade the brain and the spinal cord, leading to meningitis. How to test for viral meningitis? What are the symptoms of viral meningitis? Find answers to these questions and more, in this article…
Infection of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and inflammation of the membranes (meninges) of the brain and spinal cord is known as meningitis. Fungi and parasites can also attack the meninges, but such infections are very rare. A viral infection is the most common cause of meningitis, and such type of meningitis is also referred to as ‘aseptic meningitis’. The second most common cause of meningitis is bacterial infections.
Various types of viruses can attack and can cause inflammation of the meninges. Enteroviruses, coxsackieviruses, and echoviruses, are the main culprits. They are responsible for the viral meningitis cases noticed, especially during the summer and fall months. Arboviruses are spread through mosquitoes and other insects, and they can also cause meningitis. Some cases of viral meningitis, caused by lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMVs), which is spread by rodents, have also been noticed. Various other viral infections, if not treated promptly and properly, can lead to viral meningitis. For example, mumps, polio, various types of herpes, measles, influenza, AIDS, etc.
Viral meningitis symptoms may vary from person to person, depending upon his age and overall health. Doctors examine the physical symptoms and then order some tests for viral meningitis. Infections caused by enteroviruses can be asymptomatic, or some people may develop skin rash and mouth sores, along with cold and fever. Sometimes, the symptoms are exhibited quickly after the entry of the virus into the body; while sometimes, they are exhibited after several days. Increased irritability can be noticed in children and babies. Fever, loss of appetite (problem in feeding), and excessive sleepiness can be seen in small children. High grade fever, severe headaches, excessive fatigue and tiredness, stiff neck, appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to bright light, are some of the symptoms of viral meningitis in adults.
How to Test for Viral Meningitis
Viral meningitis can be diagnosed with the help of a blood test that helps measure the levels of C-reactive protein and blood count. Blood examination gives an idea about the extent of inflammation.
Cerebrospinal Fluid Analysis
Usually, the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid is tested in the laboratory to check whether the infection is bacterial or viral. A lumbar puncture is necessary for this.
In case of severe symptoms, the level of brain herniation is checked with a CT or MRI scan. A scan of the chest, skull, and sinus cavities, help detect the severity of the symptoms, like swelling due to infection.
Xpert EV Test
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a laboratory test called ‘Xpert EV Test’, that helps diagnose the most common type of viral meningitis in the US. Quick analysis of the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid by a process called ‘reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction’, helps determine the correct treatment. The test can be performed immediately – a few hours after noticing the symptoms. You can get the results of the test within 3 hours. This test helps detect the cause of meningitis, and may be performed along with other diagnostic tests too.
In the U.S., about 90% of viral meningitis are caused by enteroviral (EV) infection. But as it takes about 2 – 3 days to get the test results, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics to all patients, to be on the safer side, when they suspect meningitis. Bacterial meningitis needs to be treated with antibiotics immediately; as the symptoms can worsen within two days and can prove to be fatal. With the rapid Xpert EV Test, results are obtained within a few hours. Thus, doctors can determine the course of the treatment right away. A person with viral meningitis does not need antibiotics. He may not need hospitalization if the symptoms are mild. Sometimes, the symptoms of meningitis subside on their own within a week or so.
Bacterial meningitis is more serious than viral meningitis. Viral meningitis is also a serious disease, but those who have a properly functioning immune system can fight the disease. Delay in treatment or negligence in case of bacterial meningitis can lead to permanent disability. It can even prove to be fatal. Both viral and bacterial meningitis need prompt medical attention. Maintaining proper hygiene, and using mosquito nets, can help prevent viral meningitis.