What are viral central nervous system (CNS) infections?
Your central nervous system (CNS) is your brain and spinal cord. A viral infection Overview of Viral Infections A virus is a microorganism, a tiny living organism. Other common microorganisms include bacteria. Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and can be seen only with the most powerful microscopes... read more can affect one or both of these organs. Infection can result in:
Meningitis Viral Meningitis Meningitis is an infection of the thin layer of tissue that covers your brain and spinal cord. This layer of tissue is called the meninges. In viral meningitis, the infection is caused by a... read more : infection of the meninges, which are the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord
Viral CNS infections can be very serious.
The first sign is usually a fever, followed by crankiness, not wanting to eat, headache, neck pain, and sometimes seizure Seizures in Children Seizures are changes in the brain's electrical signals. The brain is made up of nerve cells Nerve cells talk to each other through electrical signals Seizures happen if too many nerve cells... read more
Most children recover, but some go into a coma and die
A few children have permanent complications such as deafness, mental difficulties, seizures, or weakness of an arm or leg
Doctors do a spinal tap Spinal Tap Spinal fluid is a liquid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. Spinal fluid helps cushion your brain if you hit your head or fall. Spinal fluid moves freely around your brain and spinal... read more to see if your child has meningitis or encephalitis
There's usually no specific treatment for a viral infection of the brain or spinal cord
What causes viral CNS infections in children?
Viral central nervous system infections are caused by many different types of viruses.
Children get these viruses in different ways, for example:
From their mother as they pass through the birth canal (herpesvirus)
Bites by infected insects
Breathing air near someone who has the virus
What are the symptoms of a viral CNS infection in children?
Symptoms vary by age.
Babies usually have:
Fussiness or crying, even when held or rocked—sometimes with an unusual, high-pitched cry
In some babies, the first sign is a seizure.
Children may have:
With severe encephalitis, sluggishness and confusion followed by coma and possibly death
With encephalitis caused by herpes simplex virus infection Herpes Simplex Virus Infections There are 8 different types of herpesvirus. Even though herpes simplex is only one of those types, most people just call it "herpes." Herpes simplex is a viral infection that causes a rash of... read more , infants and children may have evidence of infection elsewhere such as a rash of red spots and fluid-filled blisters on the skin, in the mouth, or around the eyes.
Are there any complications of a viral CNS infection?
Some babies and children have brain and nerve problems after the infection. They may have:
Weakness in an arm or leg
Loss of sight or hearing
Changes in the way they act
Learning or behavior problems
Seizures that come and go
Sometimes these problems go away, but they can be permanent.
How will doctors know if my child has a viral CNS infection?
To know if your child has meningitis or encephalitis, doctors do:
A spinal tap
In a spinal tap, the doctor puts a needle into the lower back to draw fluid from around the spinal cord. Sometimes doctors also do:
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) scans of your child’s brain
How do doctors treat viral CNS infections in children?
Treat babies in the hospital to keep them warm and give them fluids and medicines for fever or seizures
Treat a herpes simplex virus infection with an antiviral medicine through your child's vein (IV)
Sometimes, treat long-lasting brain and nerve damage by giving corticosteroids or other medicines