Vocal about Viral – what about research?

4th May 2016

Dr Fiona McGill, from the University of Liverpool, explores why more research into viral meningitis is needed to answer some of the big questions and better identify and treat it

Fiona McGill

Viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis in the United Kingdom but it is often not talked about as much as, thankfully, it doesn’t kill people or harm people in the same way as bacterial meningitis.

Because of this it has often, in the past, also not been the subject of as much research as bacterial meningitis. Therefore, there is still a lot about viral meningitis we don’t really know.

Some of the big questions that need to be answered are: 

  • How common is viral meningitis? Viral meningitis is probably about five times as common as bacterial meningitis in adults. In very young babies it is much commoner and can cause a very severe illness. Research being carried out at the University of Liverpool aims to determine exactly how common viral meningitis in adults is. This will allow us to work out where further research needs to be targeted
  • What viruses exactly cause it? Many cases of viral meningitis are caused by a virus that normally causes mild illness in children – the enterovirus. The family of herpes viruses (like the viruses that cause chickenpox or genital herpes) can also cause meningitis. Many cases never have a specific virus found. There is a need to improve the diagnostic tests for viral meningitis
  • What treatments might work for viral meningitis? There are no treatments for enteroviruses. Some enteroviruses in parts of the world can cause devastating illness including paralysis and death. In view of the number of patients suffering viral meningitis and the severity of illness it can cause in a few there is a need to develop a treatment. There is treatment available for herpes infections, however, no-one has ever done a study to see if it works in meningitis. As a result some patients get treated and others don’t. There is a need to find out once and for all if the drug works in herpes meningitis or not. There is a need to develop and test drugs for viral meningitis
  • What are the after effects of viral meningitis? This is a big question and many patients who suffer viral meningitis will describe all sorts of symptoms afterwards including tiredness, headaches and difficulty concentrating. There are a few small studies suggesting that viral meningitis may have longer lasting effects than we sometimes think, but the studies are often not big enough to come to any definitive conclusions. There is a need to properly assess the longer term effects of viral meningitis

There is so much we still need to know about viral meningitis so that we can better identify and treat it. Through research like mine and through charities such as Meningitis Now we can start to identify the problems and attempt to find solutions. 

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