Many different viruses can cause viral meningitis. About 90 percent of cases of viral meningitis are caused by members of a group of viruses known as enteroviruses, such as coxsackieviruses and echoviruses. These viruses are more common during summer and fall months. Herpesviruses and the mumps virus can also cause viral meningitis.
Viral meningitis is usually diagnosed by laboratory tests of spinal fluid obtained with a spinal tap. The specific cause of viral meningitis can be determined by tests that identify the virus in specimens collected from the patient, but these tests are rarely done.
No specific treatment for viral meningitis exists at this time. Most patients with viral meningitis completely recover on their own. Doctors often will recommend bed rest, plenty of fluids, and medicine to relieve fever and headache.
Enteroviruses, the most common cause of viral meningitis, are most often spread through direct contact with respiratory secretions (e.g., saliva, sputum, or nasal mucus) of an infected person. This usually happens by shaking hands with an infected person or touching something they have handled, and then rubbing your own nose or mouth.
The virus can also be found in the stool of people who are infected. The virus is spread through this route mainly among small children who are not yet toilet trained. It can also be spread this way to adults changing the diapers of an infected infant.
The incubation period for enteroviruses is usually between three and seven days from the time you are infected until you develop viral meningitis symptoms. You can usually spread the virus to someone else beginning about three days after you are infected up until about 10 days after you develop symptoms.