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General Information

DEFINITION--Inflammation of the meninges (thin membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord). This is contagious.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Brain; spinal cord.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes; all ages.


  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Irritability.
  • Eyes that are sensitive to light.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Vomiting.
  • Confusion, lethargy and drowsiness.

> A reaction--probably an autoimmune response--following various viral illnesses, such as measles.


  • Recent measles, rubella (German measles) or various types of flu.
  • Immunosuppressive treatment, such as for cancer or following an organ transplant.
  • Poor nutrition.
  • Recent illness that has lowered resistance.
  • Meningitis epidemics. The disease becomes more severe as it spreads from person to person.

HOW TO PREVENT--Keep immunizations up to date against all viruses for which vaccines are available.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
  • Laboratory studies, such as blood-cell counts and examination of the cerebrospinal fluid.
  • CT scan or MRI (See Glossary for both) of the brain.


  • Doctor's treatment.
  • Hospitalization for most cases.


  • Permanent brain damage (rare).
  • Muscle impairment or paralysis (uncommon).

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Most patients recover fully from viral meningitis without specific therapy--unlike bacterial meningitis, in which antibiotics may be life-saving.

How To Treat

GENERAL MEASURES----Treatment involves hospital care for any support measures that might be necessary.


  • If aseptic meningitis is caused by a virus, there is no medication for it. The body defenses will usually cure it.
  • Your doctor may prescribe antifungal drugs, such as amphoterecin B, if the meningitis is caused by a fungus; antinausea drugs and stronger pain medications may be needed.
  • Avoid aspirin for pain; it may cause bleeding.

ACTIVITY--Rest in bed in a darkened room. Resume your normal activities as soon as symptoms improve.

DIET--No special diet. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluid daily, even if you don't feel like it.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You have symptoms of aseptic meningitis.
  • New, unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.
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