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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. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask how to take this medicine safely.
  • Antinausea medicine calms your stomach and helps control vomiting.
  • Antiviral medicine helps fight an infection caused by some viruses.
  • Rest as much as possible. A dark, quiet room is best if you have headaches or your eyes are sensitive to light.

How can I help prevent viral meningitis?

  • Clean surfaces with soap and water. Disinfect with a solution that has water and chlorine-containing bleach.
  • Completely heat chilled foods before you eat or serve them.
  • Discard tissue after you wipe or blow your nose.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Do not share food or drinks.
  • Certain illnesses caused by a virus, such as the mumps, can lead to viral meningitis. By taking steps to help prevent these illnesses, you can also help prevent viral meningitis. Make sure you have had the following vaccinations:
    • Influenza vaccine helps prevent influenza (flu). Everyone older than 6 months should get a yearly influenza vaccine. Get the vaccine as soon as it is available, usually in October or November each year.
    • MMR vaccine helps prevent measles, mumps, and rubella. Children 1 year or older need 2 doses. Doses are usually given between 12 and 15 months and again between 4 and 6 years.
    • Varicella vaccine helps prevent chickenpox (varicella) infection. Children usually get 2 doses. The first dose is usually given at 12 to 15 months. The second dose is usually given at 4 to 6 years. Any older child who is not fully vaccinated may need 1 dose. Any older child who is not vaccinated and has never had chickenpox should receive the vaccine.
    • Polio vaccine (IPV) helps prevent polio. IPV is also called inactivated polio vaccine. Infants and children usually get 4 doses of IPV. The vaccine is usually given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years. The vaccine may be given as early as 6 weeks of age.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Have someone call 911 if you have a seizure or have a hard time waking up.

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 caregivers 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.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. 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 CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.