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Viral Meningitis in Children


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 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 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 prevent the spread of viral meningitis?

  • Wash your and your child's hands often. Use soap and water. Have your child wash his hands after he uses the bathroom or sneezes. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
  • Do not let your child share food or drinks. Discard tissues after he uses them to wipe or blow his or her nose.
  • Get vaccines as directed. Vaccines help protect your child and others around him or her from diseases caused by infection.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • 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 contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • 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 2020 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

Further information

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

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