Viral Meningitis

Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining (meninges) that covers your brain and spinal cord. It may cause headache, stiff neck, and irritability. It may also cause fever, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting.

Infections from bacteria or viruses cause most cases of meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is often more serious. It may cause lifelong (permanent) complications. You would need treatment in the hospital with antibiotics. But your tests show that you have viral meningitis. The severity of viral meningitis can vary. It could be very mild, without complications. Or it could be very severe or even life-threatening. This depends on which virus you have. You can take care of some of the mild forms at home. Some cases of viral meningitis need antiviral medicines, hospitalization, and other treatments. Meningitis can also be the first symptom of COVID-19 infection.

Most cases of viral meningitis are passed from person to person through coughing, sneezing, and close contact. West Nile virus is a rare cause of viral meningitis. It's passed by mosquito bites.

Viral meningitis is not treated with antibiotics. Other medicines may be given to treat your symptoms. It will take 2 to 7 days to recover from viral meningitis. You may have headaches that come and go for up to 2 weeks.

In rare cases, what looks like viral meningitis may turn out to be early bacterial meningitis. That’s why it’s important to be rechecked. Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms get worse or new symptoms appear.

Home care

Follow these tips when taking care of yourself at home:

  • Rest in bed until you're feeling better. Stay home from school or work for at least 7 days, or until all symptoms are gone.

  • Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and to relieve pain, unless you were prescribed another pain medicine. Talk with your healthcare provider before taking these medicines if you have chronic liver or kidney disease. Also, talk with your provider if you’ve had a stomach ulcer or digestive tract bleeding. Don’t give aspirin to anyone younger than 18 years old who's ill with a fever. It may cause severe liver damage.

  • If you have a fever, drink extra water, sports drinks, or other fluids. This will keep you from getting dehydrated.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and clean, running water to prevent spreading the infection.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. This is to make sure you're getting better as expected.

When to get medical care

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Headache or stiff neck that gets worse

  • Drowsiness, confusion, or bizarre behavior

  • You can’t keep fluids down because of vomiting

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised

  • Weakness or numbness in an arm or leg

  • Trouble speaking, swallowing, or walking

  • Seizure

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Powered by Krames Patient Education - A Product of StayWell