Viral meningitis (when meningitis is caused by a virus) is the most common type of
meningitis. Most people get better on their own without treatment. However, anyone
with symptoms of meningitis should see a doctor right away because any type of meningitis
can be serious. Only a doctor can determine if someone has meningitis, what is causing
it, and the best treatment. Babies younger than 1 month old and people with weakened
immune systems are more likely to have severe illness from viral meningitis.
Non-polio enteroviruses are the most common cause of viral meningitis in the United States. Only a small
number of people infected with enteroviruses will develop meningitis.
People of any age can get viral meningitis. However, some people have a higher risk
of getting the disease, including:
Children younger than 5 years old
People with weakened immune systems caused by diseases, medications (such as chemotherapy),
and recent organ or bone marrow transplantations
Babies younger than 1 month old and people with weakened immune systems are also more
likely to have severe illness.
Close contacts of someone with viral meningitis can become infected with the virus
that made that person sick. However, these close contacts are not likely to develop
meningitis. Only a small number of people who get infected with the viruses that cause
meningitis will develop viral meningitis.
Viruses that can cause meningitis spread in different ways. Learn more about how the
following viruses spread by visiting CDC’s websites:
Most people with mild viral meningitis usually get better on their own within 7 to
Initial symptoms of viral meningitis are similar to those for bacterial meningitis. However, bacterial meningitis is usually severe and can cause serious complications,
such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. The pathogens (germs)
that cause bacterial meningitis can also be associated with another serious illness,
sepsis. Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to infection. Without timely treatment, sepsis
can quickly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
See a doctor right away if you think you or your child might have meningitis. A doctor
can determine if you have the disease, what is causing it, and the best treatment.
Doctors diagnose meningitis by ordering specific lab tests on specimens from a person
suspected of having meningitis. If a doctor suspects meningitis, he or she may collect
samples for testing by:
Swabbing your nose or throat
Obtaining a stool sample
Taking some blood
Drawing fluid from around your spinal cord
In most cases, there is no specific treatment for viral meningitis. Most people who
get mild viral meningitis usually recover completely in 7 to 10 days without treatment.
Antiviral medicine may help people with meningitis caused by viruses such as herpesvirus
and influenza. Antibiotics do not help viral infections, so they are not useful in the treatment
of viral meningitis. However, antibiotics do fight bacteria, so they are very important
when treating bacterial meningitis.
People who develop severe illness, or are at risk for developing severe illness, may
need care in a hospital.
There are no vaccines available in the United States to protect against non-polio
enteroviruses, which are the most common cause of viral meningitis. The best way to
help protect yourself and others from non-polio enterovirus infections is to
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers
or using the toilet
Avoid close contact, such as touching and shaking hands, with people who are sick
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
Stay home when you are sick and keep sick children out of school
Vaccines can protect against some diseases, such as measles, mumps, chickenpox, and
influenza, which can lead to viral meningitis. Make sure you and your child are vaccinated
Avoid bites from mosquitoes and other insects that carry diseases that can infect