Understanding Viral Infection of the Spinal Cord: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Viral infections of the spinal cord, though relatively rare, can have significant health implications if not promptly and properly treated. These infections can cause inflammation of the spinal cord, a condition known as myelitis, which can disrupt the normal functioning of the spinal cord. In this blog post, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, and also available treatment options for viral infections of the spinal cord, providing valuable insights for those seeking a deeper understanding of this medical condition.

Causes of Viral Infection of the Spinal Cord

Viral infections of the spinal cord can be caused by several types of viruses, including:

1. Enteroviruses

These are common viruses that often cause respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms. Occasionally, they can spread to the central nervous system, affecting the spinal cord.

2. Herpes Viruses

This group includes herpes simplex viruses, which are known for causing cold sores and genital herpes, as well as varicella-zoster, the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles. These viruses can infect the spinal cord directly or cause inflammation around nerve fibers.

3. HIV

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can affect the spinal cord, particularly in the later stages of the disease.

4. West Nile Virus

Transmitted by mosquito bites, this virus can cause a wide range of symptoms, from mild flu-like illness to severe neurological diseases, also including infections of the spinal cord.

5. Poliovirus

Though now rare due to widespread vaccination, poliovirus historically caused poliomyelitis, which can involve spinal cord infection leading to paralysis.

Symptoms of Viral Infection of the Spinal Cord

The symptoms of a viral spinal cord infection can vary depending on the area of the spinal cord affected but typically include:

  • Back Pain: Often the first symptom, which can be severe and worsen with movement.
  • Motor and Sensory Loss: Weakness or paralysis in the legs or arms, sensory loss, or numbness.
  • Bowel and Bladder Dysfunction: Difficulty in controlling bowel movements or bladder function.
  • Muscle Spasms: Stiffness or uncontrollable muscle spasms.


Diagnosing a viral infection of the spinal cord involves several steps:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: To look for signs and symptoms of infection.
  • Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap): To collect and analyze cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for signs of inflammation and the presence of viruses.
  • MRI: To visualize inflammation or other abnormalities in the spinal cord.
  • Blood Tests: To identify the specific virus responsible for the infection.

Treatment Options

Treatment for a viral infection of the spinal cord focuses on managing symptoms and also supporting recovery:

1. Antiviral Medications

Specific antiviral medications may be used if a particular virus is identified as the cause. For example, acyclovir is used for herpes simplex virus infections.

2. Corticosteroids

These may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and swelling in the spinal cord.

3. Pain Management

Pain relief medications are often necessary to manage severe back pain associated with this condition.

4. Physical Therapy

After the initial infection has been managed, physical therapy may be necessary to improve mobility and also strength if there has been any paralysis or motor loss.

5. Supportive Care

Supportive treatments may include bladder management and other care to help with daily activities and maintain quality of life during recovery.

Prevention and Outlook

Prevention of viral infections of the spinal cord largely depends on general viral infection prevention strategies, such as vaccination, good hygiene practices, and mosquito control for viruses like West Nile. The outlook for individuals with viral spinal cord infections can vary widely depending on the virus involved and the severity of the infection. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are critical for the best possible outcomes.


Viral infections of the spinal cord are serious medical conditions that require immediate attention. Understanding the potential causes, recognizing the symptoms, and seeking timely medical care can greatly improve the chances of recovery. At Texas Spine & Pain, we are committed to providing comprehensive care and support to individuals facing such challenging conditions.


The information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. For specialized services, contact Texas Spine & Pain or other related doctors.

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