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Long-Term Side Effects of Viral Meningitis

author image Dr. Susan Jewell
Health expert and network TV/radio/Internet host, Dr. Susan Jewell has appeared on CBS, Fox News, ABC and NBC. She is a health blogger and producer, and currently produces several webisode/TV series on "how-tos on health and living green." Dr. Jewell trained in clinical research medicine in cancer and AIDS/HIV at NIH and UCLA.
Long-Term Side Effects of Viral Meningitis
MRI scan of the human brain. Photo Credit Bunyos/iStock/Getty Images


Viral meningitis or aseptic meningitis, is relatively mild and patients recover in a few days. Meningitis is an infection of the membranes surrounding the central nervous system and the fluid circulating the spinal cord. Long-term effects can result if the infection spreads into the adjacent brain tissue resulting in a variety of neurological symptoms and infections.

Learning Disabilities

Infants and children who suffer viral meningitis may be left with learning disabilities as the infection damages parts of their developing brains. A cover article published in the American Academy of Family Physicians, May 1999, by Dr Norris, reported the long term effects in newborns and young infants diagnosed with aseptic meningitis included learning disabilities, neuromuscular problems and loss of hearing.

Memory Problems

Viral meningitis can affect memory. Both short-term and long-term memory problems have been reported by patients who have been treated for viral meningitis. An article published in Oxford Journals of Brain, December 2005, by researcher H. Schmidt, concluded that patients recovering from aseptic meningitis had impaired memory functions and learning disabilities.

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Visual Impairments

Viral meningitis can present with visual problems, like diplopia (double vision) or esotropia (one or both eyes turned inward), or divergence paralysis. An article published in the Journal of Neuro-opthalmalogy, June 2008, by researcher SL Bakker, reported the first case of a 43-year-old woman diagnosed with temporary divergence paralysis with viral meningitis. These symptoms are latter stage signs of viral meningitis infection. The virus has spread throughout the body via the cranial nerves that connect the brain to various parts of the body, including the visual cortex.

Auditory Problems

Viral meningitis can cause hearing loss and tinnitus. An article published in Deafness Research, United Kingdom in association with The Meningitis Research Foundation, September 2005, cited 10 percent of children who had recovered from meningitis suffered permanent deafness or tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Tinnitus has several causes, and one of them is damage to the auditory (hearing) pathways in the central nervous system. Another can be damage to the delicate internal organs and bones of the middle ear and inner ear, for example, the cochlea. Tinnitus can be a temporary or permanent condition.

Virus Infections

Viral meningitis is caused by viruses infecting the brain meninges (membrane layers covering the spinal cord and brain) which can result in serious long term complications and infections in multiple organs. A fact sheet on meningitis and encephalitis published on the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) website, cited that many cases of meningitis were from viral origin versus bacterial. The Enterovirus, found commonly in the nose, throat and intestinal lining is responsible for most of the cases of viral meningitis. Viruses such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Herpes simplex virus, and mumps virus can cause tissue inflammation, infections and encephalitis.

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