What is viral meningitis?

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Viral meningitis: Overview

Viral meningitis is an illness that causes inflammation in the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord. It is not the same as bacterial meningitis. The viral illness is often milder. Bacterial meningitis can be very serious.

A lumbar puncture test (spinal tap) is usually done to find the cause of your symptoms. These often include a bad headache, a fever, and a stiff neck.

Most people get better without treatment in a few weeks. But some people may feel weak and tired for months after the illness.

How can you care for yourself when you have viral meningitis?

  • Get plenty of rest. Stay in bed if you can.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Wash your hands often to prevent spreading the infection to others.

Viral meningitis in children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has a seizure.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has a severe headache.
  • Your child has a stiff neck.
  • Your child is nauseated or is vomiting.
  • Your child becomes confused or disoriented.
  • Your child has trouble thinking or concentrating.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You notice new numbness or weakness in your child.
  • Your child is not getting better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.