Skip to Content

Viral Meningitis in Children

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is viral meningitis?

Viral meningitis, also called aseptic meningitis, is inflammation of the lining that surrounds your child's brain and spinal cord. The infection can be life-threatening.

What increases my child's risk for viral meningitis?

Viral meningitis is caused by viruses found in saliva, blood, nose drainage, and bowel movements. The virus is spread from an infected person to another through coughing, kissing, or sharing food or drinks. Your child may also get a type of viral meningitis if he or she is bitten by a mosquito that carries the West Nile virus.

What are the signs and symptoms of viral meningitis?

Any of the following may develop within a few hours to a few days:

  • A high fever, stiff neck, and a severe headache
  • Neck pain or the chills
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Red or purple rash
  • Eye pain when your child looks into bright lights
  • Sleepiness or confusion

How is viral meningitis diagnosed?

  • Blood tests may be used to find the virus that may be causing your child's symptoms.
  • CT or MRI pictures may be used to check for signs of infection. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious damage. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his or her body.
  • A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, is a procedure to take a sample of fluid from your child's spinal cord. A small needle is placed into your child's lower back. Fluid will be removed from around your child's spinal cord to be tested for the virus that causes meningitis.
  • Throat and bowel movement cultures may be used to learn what virus is causing your child's symptoms.

How is viral meningitis treated?

Your child may need medicine to reduce a fever, or to control or prevent seizures. Antibiotics will not be given. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections.

How can I manage my child's symptoms?

  • Help your child rest as much as possible. A dark, quiet room may help if he or she has headaches. Talk to your child's healthcare provider about when your child can return to school or daycare.
  • Give your child liquids as directed. Your child may need extra liquids to help prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid to give your child each day and which liquids are best for him or her.

How can I help my child prevent the spread of viral meningitis?


  • Have your child wash his or her hands often. He or she should wash after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food. Have your child use soap and water. Show him or her how to rub soapy hands together, lacing the fingers. Wash the front and back of the hands, and in between the fingers. The fingers of one hand can scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Teach your child to wash for at least 20 seconds. Use a timer, or sing a song that is at least 20 seconds. An example is the happy birthday song 2 times. Have your child rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry with a clean towel or paper towel. Your older child can use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available.
    Handwashing
  • Remind your child to cover a sneeze or cough. Show your child how to use a tissue to cover his or her mouth and nose. Have your child throw the tissue away in a trash can right away. Then your child should wash his or her hands well or use a hand sanitizer. Show your child how to use the bend of his or her arm if a tissue is not available.
  • Do not let your child share items with others. Examples include toys, food, and drinks.
  • Keep your child away from others. He or she should not return to school or daycare until healthcare providers say it is okay. Have your child avoid crowds as much as possible.
  • Ask about vaccines your child needs. Vaccines help protect your child and others around him or her from diseases caused by infection. Have your child get a yearly flu vaccine as soon as recommended, usually in September or October. Your child's healthcare provider can tell you other vaccines your child should get, and when to get them.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your child is hard to wake.
  • Your child has a seizure.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has a headache and stiff neck.
  • Your child is confused.
  • Your child has a red or purple rash.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child is more fussy or sleepy than usual.
  • You think someone in your family has viral meningitis.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Ā© Copyright IBM Corporation 2021 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotesĀ® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Learn more about Viral Meningitis in Children

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.