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Viral Meningitis


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 (spit), 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 being infected with viral meningitis to have any of the following :

  • 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. Use soap and water. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child's diapers, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
  • Do not share food or drinks. Discard tissues after you use them to wipe or blow your nose.
  • Get vaccines as directed. Vaccines help protect you and others around you from diseases caused by infection.

Call 911 or have someone call 911 for any of the following:

  • 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 contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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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Further information

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