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Viral Meningitis

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is viral meningitis?

Viral meningitis is inflammation of the lining that surrounds and protects your brain and spinal cord. Viral meningitis is also called aseptic meningitis.

What causes viral meningitis?

Viral meningitis is caused by viruses found in sputum, blood, nose drainage, and bowel movements. The virus is spread from an infected person to another by coughing, kissing, or sharing food or drinks. You may also get a type of viral meningitis if you are bitten by a mosquito that carries the West Nile virus. Ask healthcare providers for more information about how to prevent West Nile virus.

What are the signs and symptoms of viral meningitis?

It may take a few hours to a few days after infection for any of the following to develop:

  • High fever and chills
  • A stiff neck or neck pain
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Red or purple rash
  • Eye pain when you look into bright lights
  • Sleepiness or confusion

How is viral meningitis diagnosed?

  • Lumbar puncture is a procedure in which a needle is inserted in your back and into your spinal canal. This is usually done to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is a clear, protective fluid that flows around the brain and inside the spinal canal. The fluid will be sent to a lab to check for infection.
  • Blood tests may be done to check for signs of infection.
  • Throat and stool cultures may be done. A swab of your throat or a bowel movement sample may be collected to learn what virus is causing your symptoms.

How is viral meningitis treated?

Viral meningitis usually goes away on its own in 7 to 10 days. You may be given any of the following to help relieve symptoms:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Nausea medicine helps calm your stomach and control vomiting.
  • Antiviral medicine helps treat an infection caused by a virus.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest as much as possible. A dark, quiet room is best if you have headaches or your eyes are sensitive to light.
  • Drink liquids as directed. You may need extra liquids to help prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

How can I help prevent the spread of viral meningitis?


  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands several times each day. Wash after you use the bathroom, change a child's diaper, and before you prepare or eat food. Use soap and water every time. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Wash the front and back of your hands, and in between your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first.
    Handwashing
  • Cover a sneeze or cough. Use a tissue that covers your mouth and nose. Throw the tissue away in a trash can right away. Use the bend of your arm if a tissue is not available. Wash your hands well with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer.
  • Do not share items with anyone. This includes food and drinks.
  • Get vaccines as directed. Vaccines help protect you and others around you from diseases caused by viruses or bacteria. Get the influenza (flu) vaccine as soon as recommended each year. The flu vaccine is usually available starting in September or October. Flu viruses change, so it is important to get a flu vaccine every year. Get the pneumonia vaccine if recommended. This vaccine is usually recommended every 5 years. Your provider will tell you when to get this vaccine, if needed. He or she can tell you if you should get other vaccines, and when to get them.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone call if:

  • You are hard to wake.
  • You have a seizure.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • You are confused.
  • You have a new red or purple rash.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever.
  • You think someone in your family has viral meningitis.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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