Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) is a viral infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord and of the cerebrospinal fluid.
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus infection is relatively rare and recovery usually occurs spontaneously within a couple of weeks. Many cases are probably not even identified because the symptoms range from extremely mild to those resembling severe flu. A few patients develop symptoms of meningitis. In some rare cases, the LCM viral infection can spread throughout the central nervous system, and may even be fatal.
Causes and symptoms
LCM is caused by an arenavirus, which is an RNA virus and is a mild cousin in the family containing the much more threatening arenaviruses that cause hemmorrhagic fever. Humans acquire LCM virus from infected rodents by coming in contact with the animals or their excretions. Exposure to the virus is not as unlikely to occur as it seems, because the viral hosts can be common house mice and even pets, such as hamsters and chinchillas. Most cases of LCM occur in fall and winter, when mice seek warmth inside dwellings. Food and dust can become contaminated by the excretions of rodents infected with LCM virus. In 1997, French scientists alerted physicians to suspect LCM viral infection in people who had contact with Syrian hamsters.
The symptoms of LCM occur in two phases. The first (prodrome) stage can produce fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, and vomiting. In the second phase, characteristic meningitis symptoms of headache, stiff neck, listlessness, and nausea and vomiting may occur. In adults, complications are rare and recovery may even occur before the second phase.
The virus is not spread from person to person, except through pregnancy. LCM virus is one of the few viruses that can cross the placenta from mother to child during pregnancy and may be an underrecognized cause of congenital infection in newborns. Infection with cytomegalovirus, Toxoplasma gondii, or LCM virus can appear similar enough in infants to be confused when diagnosed. In cases that have been recognized among infants, LCM viral infection has a high mortality rate (about one-third of the babies studied died).
LCM can be distinguished from bacterial meningitis by the history of prodrome symptoms and the period of time before meningitis symptoms begin, which is about 15-21 days for LCM.
Jill S. Lasker
Prodrome—Symptom(s) experienced prior to the onset of a disease. For example, visual disturbances may precede and signal the onset of a migraine headache.