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Infectious Diseases

Meningitis

08/13/2003

Question:

1. I had viral meningitis and despite many tests, the virus could not be identified. My doctor said that the cause cannot be determined in over 50% of cases. He said I probably had an enterovirus. Why is it so difficult to detect the virus causing the infection? My symptoms were strange with a tingling that travelled up one side of my body and down the other followed by about 20 minutes of numbness on one side and then an excruciating headache. I also had photosensitivity and a stiff neck only during the episodes. This went on for approximately 6 days and the symptoms were intermittent.

2. Do EEG`s and MRI`s correspond with one another? Meaning that if one is abnormal the other will probably be also?

Answer:

Your physician is correct. One reason for the difficulty in pinning down a virus is that the number of virus in the spinal fluid is very small and that by the time one gets a spinal tap the virus may be gone but the inflammation is not. The culture techniques we currently use are not sufficiently sensitive to detect only a few virus particles. Photosensitivity is not unusual in meningitis. The headaches are very common and caused by accumulation of fluid in the brain. The other symptoms are related to the areas that the virus attacks and therefore, the symptoms can be highly variable.

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Response by:

George S Deepe, Jr, MD George S Deepe, Jr, MD
Professor of Clinical Medicine
Director of Infectious Diseases
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati