Aseptic meningitis is a disease involving inflammation in the area between the middle and inner tissue layers covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges). This area is called the subarachnoid space. This is where the cerebrospinal fluid flows around the brain and spinal cord.
Aseptic meningitis often makes its appearance after or during an ailment like a mild flu or viral infection. The sufferer may experience chills, a cough, light sensitivity (photophobia), or a rash.
They may be mentally confused, and unusually sleepy. They may have fever, abdominal pain, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting. They may suffer from headache, sore throat and a stiff neck.
While many symptoms of aseptic meningitis are similar to those that come with bacterial meningitis, those with aseptic meningitis don't get as severely ill. Recovery time will usually be one to two weeks.
Light-headedness and fatigue may linger for some time afterward however. Recovery may also be slower if the individual has a weakened immune system.
Bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria in the cerebrospinal fluid. Aseptic meningitis is brought on by infection from other sources.
About 50 % of aseptic meningitis cases will stem from two enteroviruses, coxsackie and echovirus. These enteroviruses are spread by physical contact and by coughing, or less frequently by contact with fecal matter. The enteroviruses are often found in the digestive tract. Enteroviral infections are most likely to occur in the summer and early fall.
Viruses carried by mosquitoes like West Nile are also a common cause. Many other viruses can bring on aseptic meningitis though these are less common infecting agents than West Nile. Some of these are chicken pox (varicella-zoster virus), herpes viruses types 1 and 2, Epstein-Barr virus, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), mumps, and rabies.
Other causes are certain types of infections near the brain or spinal cord, as well as tick-borne diseases like Lyme Disease, and tuberculosis. Fungi and mycobacteria may also be causes though these are not commonly found. Viruses causing encephalitis can also cause aseptic meningitis though this is relatively rare.