Viral meningitis

Viral meningitis is more common than bacterial meningitis and, although rarely life-threatening, it can make people very unwell. For some, the after-effects can be life-changing

Viral meningitis – the facts

  • Thousands of cases occur every year. Anyone can get viral meningitis but it is most common in babies and young children
  • The symptoms of viral meningitis can be very similar to those of bacterial meningitis, so it is essential to seek urgent medical help if concerned
  • Many different viruses can cause meningitis; enteroviruses are the most common cause
  • Viral meningitis is not generally considered to be contagious; contact with someone who has the illness does not usually increase the risk of disease to others. Linked cases of viral meningitis are extremely unusual and almost all cases occur alone
  • There is no specific treatment for most cases of viral meningitis. Patients need to be hydrated with fluids, given painkillers and allowed to rest in order to recover. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. However, in some instances, antibiotics may be started on admission to hospital because the cause of meningitis is not known. Antibiotics are usually discontinued once viral meningitis is diagnosed.  
  • Although most people will make a full recovery, the recovery process can be slow. Some can be left with serious and life-changing after-effects
  • After-effects can include headaches, exhaustion and memory loss
  • Although there aren’t vaccines to prevent most cases of viral meningitis, the MMR vaccine, which is given as part of the UK routine immunisation schedule, protects against measles, mumps and rubella viral infections. Prior to the use of this vaccine, mumps was a common cause of viral meningitis in children

For the full facts, download our free viral meningitis fact sheetA guide for employers and a guide for health professionals information sheets are also available.

True impact of viral meningitis

Many people who have experienced viral meningitis feel that they are dismissed as having the ‘milder’ form of meningitis and that very little is understood about the recovery and after-effects. In response, we carried out a survey, with over 450 viral meningitis sufferers responding. The results (attached to the viral meningitis fact sheet) show the real impact viral meningitis can have.

Being vocal about viral

The survey findings are helping us raise the profile of this type of meningitis and inform health professionals, schools, employers, family and friends of the potential long-term effects that sufferers can face. Our annual Viral Meningitis Week aims to keep viral meningitis and its true impact high on the public agenda.

Been affected by viral meningitis? 

Don’t face meningitis alone. Call our Meningitis Helpline on 0808 80 10 388 to speak to our experienced staff. You can access our free support or ask us any questions. Whatever your experience, whenever it was, please get in touch. Our support is for life.