Viral Meningitis

What is meningitis? —

Meningitis is a condition that can cause a fever, headache, and stiff neck. Meningitis happens when the lining that covers the brain and spinal cord (called the “meninges”) gets inflamed or infected.

An infection of the meninges can cause meningitis. This can happen after a person gets an infection in another part of the body. The germs can travel through the blood to the lining of the brain and spinal cord.

There are 2 main types of meningitis:

●Bacterial meningitis ●Aseptic meningitis Bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria. Aseptic meningitis is not. It’s important for doctors to find out which kind of meningitis a person has, because bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency. It can lead to brain problems or even death.

Aseptic meningitis is serious, but not usually as serious as bacterial meningitis. People usually recover from aseptic meningitis without any long-term problems.

Both aseptic and bacterial meningitis can have the same symptoms. So the only way a doctor can know for sure which type of meningitis someone has is to do tests in the hospital.

This article discusses aseptic meningitis.

What causes aseptic meningitis? — Viruses cause most cases of aseptic meningitis. But other things can also cause aseptic meningitis, including:

●Germs that are not bacteria or viruses ●Medicines – Aseptic meningitis can be a rare side effect of certain medicines. Also, people who have advanced cancer can get aseptic meningitis if their cancer spreads to their meninges.

What are the symptoms of aseptic meningitis? — Common symptoms include:

●Fever ●Headache ●Nausea or vomiting ●Stiff neck – This is most often seen in children and adults. Babies might not get a stiff neck. ●Having light bother a person’s eyes Babies can also have other symptoms, including:

●Not feeding well ●Being more sleepy or fussy than usual ●A bulging soft spot on the skull People can have other symptoms, too, depending on what’s causing the infection. For example, people whose aseptic meningitis is caused by a virus can also have a rash, diarrhea, runny nose, or sore throat. A rash can also happen with bacterial meningitis.

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — Yes. If you have a fever, headache, and stiff neck, go to the emergency room right away. If you think your child has meningitis, bring him or her to the emergency room right away.

It’s very important to go to the hospital if you think you or your child has meningitis. That’s because the only way a doctor can tell for sure that someone has aseptic meningitis — and not life-threatening bacterial meningitis — is to do tests in the hospital.

Will I need tests? — Yes. The doctor or nurse will learn about your symptoms and do an exam. He or she will do tests to look for the cause of your meningitis. These tests can include 1 or more of the following:

●Blood tests ●A lumbar puncture (sometimes called a “spinal tap”) – During this procedure, a doctor puts a thin needle into your lower back and takes out a small amount of spinal fluid. Spinal fluid is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. He or she will do lab tests on the spinal fluid. ●A CT scan of the brain – This is an imaging test that creates pictures of the brain. ●Other tests – For example, the doctor can use a cotton swab to collect a sample from the back of the throat. Then he or she can do lab tests on the sample. How is aseptic meningitis treated? — Treatment for aseptic meningitis usually includes:

●Resting ●Drinking fluids or getting fluids into your vein through a tube called an “IV” ●Taking an over-the-counter medicine to treat a fever or headache Aseptic meningitis is NOT treated with antibiotic medicines. That’s because antibiotics only treat infections caused by bacteria.

Your doctor might recommend other treatments, depending on what’s causing the meningitis. Certain viruses and other germs can be treated with medicines.

This content was written by

Dr. Carlo Oller

Board Certified Emergency Physician

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