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A to Z: Meningitis, Viral

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May also be called: Aseptic Meningitis

Viral meningitis (VY-rul meh-nin-JY-tus) is an inflammation of the meninges caused by a virus.

More to Know

Meningitis happens when the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, become infected, usually by bacteria or viruses. Viral meningitis (also called aseptic meningitis) is fairly common and usually less serious than bacterial meningitis.

Viruses that infect the skin, urinary tract, or digestive and respiratory systems can spread via the bloodstream to the meninges through cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the fluid that circulates in and around the spinal cord.

Many different viruses can lead to viral meningitis, including enteroviruses (such as coxsackievirus and poliovirus), and the herpesvirus.

Children with viral meningitis may have a fever, headache, sensitivity to light, fatigue, fussiness, nausea, neck stiffness, and vomiting. Because all of these symptoms look very similar to a common flu, it is not always easy to diagnose viral meningitis. To identify it, doctors may do a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to get a sample of CSF for testing.

There is no specific treatment for viral meningitis, but most people recover completely on their own within 7-10 days.

Keep in Mind

Viral meningitis is generally less serious than bacterial meningitis. Although severe cases may require hospital visits, viral meningitis often can be treated at home with rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain medicine.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.