UT University Health Services

Viral Meningitis (Caused by Non-Polio Enteroviruses)

What is viral meningitis?

Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord, and viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis. It is often less severe than bacterial meningitis (meningococcal disease). Unlike bacterial meningitis, which can be life-threatening, most people with viral meningitis improve without any treatment in 7 to 10 days. People with weakened immune systems and babies younger than one month of age are more likely to have severe cases of viral meningitis.

What causes viral meningitis?

Non-polio enteroviruses cause 85 to 90% of viral meningitis cases in the U.S., especially from late spring to fall. While other viruses can lead to viral meningitis, this article is limited only to meningitis caused by non-polio enteroviruses.

These viruses are found in an infected person’s:

  • feces (See How do I Prevent Viral Meningitis? Below.)
  • fluid in a blister, or
  • nasal secretions, saliva or sputum.

How is this type of meningitis spread?

  • Oral-fecal transmission such as:
    • drinking water or eating food that is contaminated with infected fecal material
    • shaking hands with an infected person who hasn’t washed their hands after going to the bathroom and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands
    • touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands
    • changing diapers of an infected person and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.
  • Touching a person, object or surface that has been contaminated with fluid from a blister or saliva, sputum, or nasal secretions of an infected person and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.

What are the symptoms of this type of meningitis?

Common symptoms in adults include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Sleepiness or trouble waking up from sleep
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy (a lack of energy)

Most people with viral meningitis get better on their own within 7 to 10 days.

If you have symptoms of viral meningitis and are concerned, please call your healthcare provider. Students can call the UHS 24-hour Nurse Advice Line at 512-475-6877. Faculty and staff should contact their health provider for advice. If you have the UT Select medical insurance plan, you can call the BlueCross BlueShield of Texas 24/7 Nurseline at 888-315-9473 for guidance.

How is viral meningitis diagnosed?

If your doctor thinks you might have meningitis, they may collect samples for testing by

  • swabbing your nose and/or throat,
  • swabbing your rectum or asking you to provide a stool (feces) sample,
  • drawing blood, or
  • drawing fluid from around your spinal cord.

How is viral meningitis treated?

Non-polio enterovirus-caused meningitis usually requires no specific treatment, and symptoms usually resolve on their own in 7 to 10 days. Those at risk of developing more serious viral meningitis illness (e.g. babies, those with weakened immune systems) may require hospitalization.

How can I prevent viral meningitis?

There are no vaccines to protect against non-polio enteroviruses. You can take the following steps to lower your chances of becoming infected or spreading the virus to other people if you become ill:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after you use the toilet, change diapers or cough or blow your nose.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing or hugging or sharing drinking cups or eating utensils with sick people.
  • Don’t sneeze or cough into your hands. Rather, cough into a tissue, elbow or upper shirt sleeve.
  • If someone is sick, frequently clean and disinfect surfaces they might touch, such as tables/desks, door knobs, remote controls, computer keyboards and mice, etc.
  • If you are sick, stay home to keep from infecting others.
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