Meningitis is an infection of the thin layer of tissue that covers your brain and spinal cord. This layer of tissue is called the meninges. In viral meningitis, the infection is caused by a virus. Viral meningitis isn't usually as dangerous as meningitis caused by bacteria (bacterial meningitis).
Viral meningitis usually begins with fever, feeling ill, headache, and muscle aches
Later, your headache gets worse, and you may have a stiff neck
Doctors suspect viral meningitis based on your symptoms and the results of a spinal tap
Most people with viral meningitis feel better in a few weeks
Many different viruses can cause viral meningitis, including:
You can get the viruses that cause viral meningitis in several ways, depending on which virus is the cause:
Touching contaminated stool which can happen when infected people swim in a public swimming pool or don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom
Sex or other genital contact with an infected person
A bite from an insect, such as a mosquito
Breathing in the virus in the air
Touching dust or food with urine or stool on it from infected mice or pet hamsters
Symptoms may resemble those of bacterial meningitis but are usually milder and progress more slowly. At first, you may have no symptoms or symptoms similar to a cold or stomach virus, such as:
Later, you’ll have:
Most people, but not everyone, with herpes meningitis will also have herpes sores on their genitals.
Doctors do tests to look for viruses in the fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord (spinal fluid). To get the spinal fluid, doctors do a:
Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)
Doctors will also:
How a Spinal Tap Is Done
Doctors give you anti-virus medicines if the cause of your meningitis is HIV or herpes. They'll also give you medicine to treat your symptoms, such as acetaminophen for a fever and headache.
Most people with viral meningitis don't need anti-virus medicine, because they'll get better within a few weeks with or without treatment. Sometimes, recovery is slow, and it can take a few months to feel better.
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