What is the role of viral infection in the etiology of aseptic meningitis?

Updated: Jul 17, 2018
  • Author: Tarakad S Ramachandran, MBBS, MBA, MPH, FAAN, FACP, FAHA, FRCP, FRCPC, FRS, LRCP, MRCP, MRCS; Chief Editor: Niranjan N Singh, MBBS, MD, DM, FAHS, FAANEM  more...
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Overall, viral infection is the most common form of aseptic meningitis, and enteroviruses are the most common viral cause. Enteroviruses are small, nonenveloped RNA viruses of the picornavirus family with various serotypes. More than 50 subtypes have been linked with meningitis. Coxsackieviruses and echoviruses, which are enteroviruses, account for approximately half of cases of aseptic meningitis.

Certain enteroviruses (e.g., coxsackievirus B5, echovirus 6, 9, and 30) are more likely to cause meningitis outbreaks, while others (coxsackie A9, B3, and B4) are mostly endemic. [1, 2, 3] The incidence of infections from enteroviruses increases in the summer and early fall. Transmission occurs by hand-to-mouth contact and to a lesser extent by respiratory and fecal routes.

Herpesviruses, both herpes labialis (HSV-1) and genital herpes (HSV-2), can cause meningitis in children and especially infants. Varicella-zoster virus, another herpesvirus, causes encephalitis but only in immunocompromised persons.

Mumps was a common cause of aseptic meningitis in the United States until mumps vaccination came into use. In several countries, mumps virus remains a common pathogen in aseptic meningitis. It is spread by respiratory secretions, with increased incidence in the spring.

Aseptic meningitis from HIV occurs mostly at the time of seroconversion. HIV spreads to the meninges hematogenously, while rabies, polio, and herpesviruses are neurotrophic (i.e., spread through neurons).

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