Meningitis is an infection of the tissues and fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord. When a virus causes the infection, it is called viral meningitis. Many viruses can cause meningitis and most cause a mild illness that goes away without treatment. However, in rare cases, viral meningitis can cause death.
Viral meningitis is the most common type of meningitis. Examples of viruses that cause meningitis include enteroviruses (one of the viruses that causes the common cold and stomach flu), herpes viruses, West Nile virus, and the mumps virus.
Viruses can be inhaled from the air after someone coughs or sneezes. They can spread by:
The symptoms of viral meningitis start the same way as a more serious type of meningitis caused by bacteria. The most common symptoms are fever, headache, and stiff neck. Your child’s neck may be so stiff that she can't touch her chin to her chest. If your child these symptoms, it is very important to get medical care right away.
Other symptoms may include:
Sometimes babies with meningitis have a bulging soft spot, irritable cry, and seizures.
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child.
It is very important to determine that it is a virus and not bacteria that is causing the meningitis. Tests may include:
There is no medicine that will cure viral meningitis. Often you can treat your child’s symptoms at home. Most children recover without any treatment other than drinking extra fluids, controlling the fever, and getting plenty of rest. Usually the symptoms of viral meningitis last 5 to 14 days, and your child recovers completely.
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:
Ask your child’s healthcare provider:
Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
To prevent spread of viral meningitis to others: