• Viral Meningitis


    The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by layers of tissue. These layers are called the meninges. When these layers becomes swollen and irritated it is called meningitis. The swelling in these layers can put pressure on the brain and spinal cord. The most common forms of meningitis include:
    The Spinal Cord and Meninges
    Nucleus factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    Viral meningitis is caused by a virus such as:
    Viruses can be spread in numerous ways including:
    • Contact with fluids from cough or sneeze of an infected person
    • Contact with feces from infected person
    • Close personal contact with someone who is sick
    • Through insect bites

    Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your risk of viral meningitis include:
    • Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV infection
    • Immunosuppressive treatments
    • Crowded, unsanitary conditions
    • Season: summer and early fall


    Symptoms of viral meningitis include:
    • High fever
    • Headache
    • Stiff, sore neck
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Sensitivity to bright lights
    • Sleepiness
    Symptoms in newborns and infants include:
    • Inactivity
    • High fever (especially unexplained high fever)
    • Irritability
    • Vomiting
    • Feeding poorly or refusing to eat
    • Tautness or bulging of soft spots between skull bones
    • Difficulty awakening


    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will focus on the nervous system. To help rule out other causes of the inflammation, such as a tumor, your doctor may need pictures of the brain, spine, and skull. These pictures can be created with:
    Viral meningitis has similar symptoms as bacterial meningitis. To make sure you do not have bacterial meningitis, the following tests may be done:
    • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) —to look for bacteria in spinal fluid
    • Tests of blood, urine, mucus, and/or pus from skin infections to look for bacteria


    Treatment includes:
    • Rest and fluids
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
    • Aspirin
      • Note : Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection Check with your doctor before giving a child aspirin
    • Antibiotics—may be given for 2-3 days while the doctor wait for test results about bacterial infection, antibiotics are note effective for viral infection
    • IV antiviral drugs—for severe infections
    If you are diagnosed with viral meningitis, follow your doctor's instructions .


    You can not control where a virus goes once it is in your body. However, you can take steps to prevent viral infections:
      Wash your hands often. This is even more important:
      • If you are in close contact with an infected person
      • Immediately after changing the diaper of an infected infant
    • Regularly wash objects and surfaces touched by children. Use a diluted bleach solution.
    • Ask your doctor about appropriate vaccinations. Especially important if you've never had measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox.
    • To prevent infections spread by mosquito bites:
      • Follow public health recommendations for reducing mosquitoes near your home.
      • Take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Use insect repellant and appropriate clothing when outdoors.
      • Avoid areas or being outside when mosquitoes are prevalent.
      If you are contemplating a pregnancy:
      • Be sure you are protected from common diseases like chickenpox. Ask your doctor about recommended vaccinations.
      • Avoid all contact with rodents during pregnancy.


    Meningitis Foundation of America http://www.musa.org/

    US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/


    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/

    Public Health Agency of Canada http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/


    Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Medical Information . 18th ed. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck; 2006.

    Meningitis. US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.html . Accessed November 13, 2012.

    Viral meningitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated June 17, 2012. Accessed November 13, 2012.

    Viral Meningitis. US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/viral.html . Updated March 15, 2012. Accessed November 13, 2012.

    Revision Information

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.