Treatment for viral meningitis can range from rest to hospital care and antiviral medications. Depending on the condition’s severity, recovery may take a few weeks or cause lasting physical and mental complications.

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Meningitis is inflammation of the tissue layer surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections, as well as injuries and other health problems, can trigger meningitis.

Viral meningitis is the most common type, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Viral meningitis is usually less serious than bacterial meningitis, which can be fatal.

In many cases, rest and time are all that’s needed for viral meningitis to resolve. Antiviral medications may treat some viruses that cause meningitis. Treatment typically focuses on managing common symptoms, such as headache and fever.

Many people who have had viral meningitis fully recover with no lasting complications. However, some people have lingering or even lifetime effects that range from headaches and muscle spasms to memory loss and personality changes.

Here’s more in-depth information about meningitis.

Antibiotics cannot treat viral infections.

In some cases, antiviral medications may help treat the underlying cause of viral meningitis. For example, the antiviral drug acyclovir (Sitavig, Zovirax) may treat herpes simplex viruses, which can trigger viral meningitis.

Most viruses that cause viral meningitis, however, have no proven treatment to cure the condition or speed up recovery. Instead, the goal is to provide symptom relief.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), may manage common symptoms, such as headache, stiff neck, and fever.

Fatigue and insomnia are other symptoms of viral meningitis, so focusing on rest and limited physical exertion are usually recommended. Nausea is another common symptom. Dietary changes and medications to help soothe an upset stomach may help, too.

If symptoms become severe, get a medical evaluation promptly.

Anyone, at any age, can develop viral meningitis.

Adults tend to have less severe symptoms than children, but symptoms in adults can last for several weeks in some cases.

Typically, though, a full recovery usually takes about 7–10 days. Very young children and very old adults, along with those who have a compromised immune system, have an increased risk of viral meningitis.

One important element of appropriate treatment is getting a diagnosis as soon as possible after symptoms develop. A 2018 study suggests that outcomes tend to be worse when there are delays in getting a proper diagnosis and in beginning treatment with antivirals, if appropriate.

A diagnosis is usually done by withdrawing a small sample of spinal fluid from the lower back and testing it.

Making sure you get enough rest is crucial to a faster and easier recovery. And once you have a diagnosis, follow the advice of your healthcare team. Don’t hesitate to take medications to help manage pain or other symptoms.

Most people recover from viral meningitis with no lasting complications, according to the Meningitis Research Foundation.

However, some side effects can last weeks, months, or longer.

Possible long-term side effects include:

  • coordination problems
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • memory loss and difficulty concentrating
  • mental health disorders and changes in personality or behavior
  • muscle paralysis or weakness
  • seizures
  • vision problems
  • hearing problems

The most common sources of viral meningitis are non-polio enteroviruses. The viruses are usually transmitted through fluids such as saliva, sputum, and nasal mucus. An individual with these viruses may also have traces of the virus in their stool or the fluid from a blister.

Avoiding or limiting contact with a person who has viral meningitis, and washing your hands frequently, can reduce your risk of contracting the virus.

However, simply contracting the same virus does not mean you will develop viral meningitis.

Mosquitoes can also carry a virus that may cause viral meningitis. Paying attention to public health alerts, avoiding certain areas, or remaining inside when mosquitoes are plentiful may lower your risk of infection.

Viral meningitis is a complication of a viral infection. Addressing the infection is key to a healthy recovery. Many viral infections have no antiviral treatment, but rest and giving the condition time to resolve is typically all that’s needed.

If you or your child have sudden symptoms such as a headache, fever, stiff neck, or lethargy, seek emergency care.

If it’s viral meningitis, there are steps you can take to promote a full and fast recovery, and it’s important to begin them as soon as possible.