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Does Herpes Cause Viral Meningitis?

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Do you suffer from herpes? Read more to learn about your increased risks of a viral meningitis infection.

Are you at risk for viral meningitis? Viral meningitis is an infection of the brain that typically causes flu-like symptoms. It is the cousin of the more deadly form of meningitis- bacterial meningitis, which is known for its deadly side effects. Today, the medical industry has a vaccine to fight three of the most common forms of bacterial meningitis, but there are no currently-available medical treatments for viral meningitis.

Viral meningitis may not be quite as deadly as bacterial meningitis, but under the wrong conditions, viral meningitis may lead to complications that can cause seizures, brain damage, and death.

The herpes virus can lead to a viral meningitis infection in rare cases. Given that nearly 80 percent of humans contract some form of herpes by the age of 60, according to data from The New York Times, the chance of contracting herpes-related viral meningitis might be more common than you think.

What is herpes?

Web MD defines herpes as small viral blisters that appear around the mouth, genitals, and rectum. After a time, the blisters burst, leaving small, crater-like sores. Herpes simplex viruses come in two different forms, known as HSV-1 and HSV-2. Most oral herpes is HSV-1, and most genital herpes is HSV-2. Herpes is a virus that is continually present in the body that flares up under certain conditions. Conditions that lead to a herpes outbreak typically include:

  • Illness
  • Stress
  • Immunosuppression through medications or AIDS
  • Fatigue
  • Trauma to the area (including sexual activity)
  • Menstruation

Under these conditions, your chances of seeing a herpes outbreak increases drastically. Avoiding these conditions, when possible, will help your body naturally resist herpes outbreaks.

Is herpes dangerous?

Most herpes outbreaks are mild and are not considered dangerous by the medical community. However, herpes outbreaks, whether type 1 or type 2, can be painful. Genital herpes are typically more painful than oral herpes. The main danger in herpes is how easily it can spread. Herpes can spread even when there are currently no visible outbreaks. According to Netdoctor.co.uk, most cases of oral herpes are transmitted from adults to babies during infancy.

Typical treatments for herpes include anti-viral drugs. The medication aciclovir (Zovirax), is commonly prescribed to treat herpes outbreaks. Other treatments include famciclovir (Famvir tablets), inosine acedoben dimepranol (Imunovir tablets), valaciclovir (Valtrex tablets), and antiviral creams containing aciclovir.

One rare side effect of the herpes virus is viral meningitis, according to the Center for Disease Control. Viral meningitis can be quite dangerous and even lead to death in children under 5 and adults with weakened immune systems. However, in most cases, viral meningitis resolves on its own without the need for medical treatment.

What is viral meningitis?

Viral meningitis is an infection of the cover over the brain and spinal cord (called the meninges). It usually occurs during the summer and fall in temperate climates. Symptoms of the infection include a sudden fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, sensitivity to light, altered mental state, and vomiting.

Viral meningitis affects all ages, but it is often most severe in young children and the elderly, according to the CDC. Although it is typically thought of as less dangerous than bacterial meningitis, it can cause serious health risks and even death, in certain cases. Other complications of viral meningitis also include seizures, brain damage, and blindness.

Is viral meningitis dangerous?

Most medical professionals do not consider viral meningitis to be dangerous. In fact, most doctors do not even offer treatments for viral meningitis and allow the virus to run its course. However, new studies indicate that viral meningitis may be more dangerous in some cases than at first thought. A 2007 study conducted by the Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego indicated that viral meningitis was responsible for the death of at least two toddlers. The researchers concluded, “These cases emphasize the possibility that mild intracranial viral infections may be a rare cause of sudden death via lethal cardiopulmonary complications.”

Web MD states that viral meningitis may cause seizures in some individuals, particularly children. Other studies show that viral meningitis may cause conditions such as blindness, seizures, and brain damage. While most cases of viral meningitis are benign, there are enough reports of serious injury or death occurring to warrant that the virus is considered a serious health risk.

The link between herpes and viral meningitis

Most cases of meningitis are caused by other viruses. According to Medscape.com, 85 percent of meningitis cases are caused by Enteroviruses, which are passed through fecal matter or the respiratory tract. Enteroviruses cause a wide range of conditions, ranging from polio to hand-foot-and-mouth disease, and Rhinovirus.

The herpes virus is responsible for around 4 percent of meningitis cases. Typically, herpes-related meningitis comes from the (HSV)-1, HSV-2, Ebstein-Barr virus (EBV), varicella-zoster virus (VZV), human herpesvirus-6, and cytomegalovirus (CMV).

When combined with encephalitis (swelling of the brain), the mortality rate of herpes-related meningitis is high. Common oral herpes HSV-1 is responsible for most meningitis-encephalitis-related cases. Treatment with acyclovir will reduce the rate of morbidity, according to Medscape.

Does herpes lead to viral meningitis?

If you have herpes, your risk of getting viral meningitis is higher than someone who does not have herpes. A 2009 study conducted by The Hospital for Sick Children in Canada indicated that in a group of 366 children, 1 showed seizure complications due to bacterial meningitis caused by HSV encephalitis. The risks are low, but the link is there. Individuals with herpes have a higher risk of contracting meningitis and having complications during meningitis outbreaks.

Another known cause for meningitis outbreaks is HSV-2 genital infections, according to Medscape.com. Sexual contact with a person who currently has an active HSV-2 infection is a risk factor for contracting viral meningitis in both persons.  

Steps you can take to reduce meningitis risk

According to research conducted by the LA Times in 2002, it is possible to reduce your risk of getting viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis. Most meningitis outbreaks occur in crowded conditions, such as dorms and military barracks (that is why most states require military personnel and college freshmen to receive a bacterial meningitis vaccine). Meningitis infection spreads by contact with oral secretions like saliva. A meningitis infection starts in the nose and throat and eventually spreads to the brain. Viral meningitis is also transmitted through contact with infected fecal matter (which may be one reason why young children are susceptible to the virus).

You can reduce your meningitis risk by avoiding situations that spread the virus. Avoid contact with people who are coughing, sneezing, and spreading saliva. Always wash your hands after using the restroom and changing diapers. You can also reduce your chances of contracting meningitis by avoiding contact with individuals dealing with a herpes outbreak. Never kiss someone with an active outbreak of oral herpes, and do not have unprotected sexual contact with someone who has genital herpes. Do not engage in sexual activity when someone is currently facing a herpes outbreak.

Reduce your herpes risk

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to avoid your chances of getting herpes. Herpes can be spread even when an outbreak is not visible, and much of the transfer of HSV-1 occurs when individuals are infants. However, the risk of infection is always present. In fact, The New York Times reports that by age 60, nearly 80 percent of all humans have contracted HSV-1.

According to the New York Times, there are a few steps you can take to minimize your risk of getting herpes. Always use a condom when engaging in sexual activity (even oral activity). Use a dental dam during oral sex. A compromised immune system can also make your chances of getting oral herpes higher. Boosting your immune system will lower your risk of getting both HSV-1 and HSV-2 herpes.

Control herpes flare-ups

There are many things you can do to control herpes flare-ups, and possibly even reduce the number of outbreaks that you see. These tips work for both HSV-1 and HSV-2 herpes outbreaks.

Keep clean

When dealing with an outbreak, pay special attention to hygiene. It is possible to spread the infection from your mouth or genitals to other areas of the body, particularly the eyes. Wash carefully under your fingernails to prevent the spread of infection after using the bathroom.

Take herpes-fighting supplements

Certain supplements have been shown to fight herpes outbreaks and reduce the chances of an outbreak. Add these supplements to your diet to ensure you keep your herpes outbreaks in check and reduce your risk of contracting herpes-related meningitis.

Vitamin A: A 2000 study conducted by the International AIDS Research and Training Program in Washington showed that women who were deficient in Vitamin A were more likely to shed the herpes simplex virus.

Selenium: According to Harvard Medical School, selenium is one of the number one immune-boosting supplements in the world. It is particularly used as an antiviral supplement.

L-lysine: L-lysine is known as the anti-herpes nutrient. A 1987 study conducted by the Indiana University School of Medicine showed that when patients with herpes were supplemented with L-lysine, their symptoms decreased, they saw 2.4 fewer outbreaks, and healing time was much faster.

Green tea, cinnamon, and licorice: A 2013 study published in the journal “Pharmacology & Pharmacy” showed that individuals taking a blend of green tea, cinnamon, licorice, and a few other ingredients showed a reduction in frequency, severity, and duration of herpes symptoms.

Reduce stress

Stress can be a major factor in causing herpes outbreaks, particularly HSV-1 outbreaks in the mouth. Try to avoid stress and engage in activities like exercise, meditation, and massages to release the stress from your body.

Avoid virus-aggravating foods

According to the book “Pathology and Nutrition” by The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, certain foods will lower the immune system and could make viral outbreak symptoms worse. A lowered immune system will make it easier for viruses to take over the body and may cause dormant herpes viruses to activate. The following foods could contribute to herpes outbreaks:

Foods that Aggravate Herpes Symptoms
  • Citrus
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Gluten
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Sugar
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate

Building the immune system

When your immune system is strong, you will have a better chance of fighting off herpes outbreaks and viral meningitis. Vitamin-rich foods will help you fight infection and reduce your chances of seeing a herpes outbreak or viral meningitis attack. If you want to avoid these conditions, try adding these foods recommended by the Harvard Medical School to your diet on a regular basis:

Immune-Building Foods
  • Garlic
  • Liver
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Oysters
  • Leafy greens
  • Milk products

Treating herpes and stopping meningitis at the source

Since nearly 80 percent of humans suffer from some form of herpes by the end of their life, it is definitely a common concern for everyone. While not everyone suffers from genital herpes, the condition is far more common than most people realize. Even though the risk of facing viral meningitis through herpes is slim, since so many people suffer from herpes, the risk is higher than you might think.

It is important to stop the signs of herpes at the source and work to prevent infections. Like most conditions, lasting healing will only come if the problem is treated at the source and by building up the body’s natural immune system. Following the above tips will help you avoid herpes outbreaks and contribute to a life of herpes-free living from both HSV-1 and HSV-2 as well as reduce your risk of catching dangerous viral meningitis.





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