Viral Diseases of the Nervous System

Many different kinds of viruses can infect the central nervous system, including the Epstein-Barr virus of infectious mononucleosis; the mumps, rubeola, varicella-zoster, and herpes simplex viruses; and more commonly, human enteroviruses and the viruses of certain zoonoses. In most cases, nervous system involvement occurs in only a very small percentage of people infected with the viruses. The next section discusses four kinds of illness resulting from viral central nervous system infections: meningitis, encephalitis, poliomyelitis, and rabies.

Viral Meningitis

Viral meningitis is much more common than bacterial meningitis. It is usually a mild disease that does not require specific treatment, and patients generally recover in 7 to 10 days. Viruses are responsible for most cases of "aseptic meningitis," meaning those with symptoms and signs of meningitis but with negative tests for bacterial pathogens.

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