Meningitis occurs when the lining of the brain and spinal cord (meninges) becomes inflamed. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord, has an increased number of white blood cells. Aseptic meningitis occurs when there are signs of meningitis without an identifiable disease-causing agent.
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Aseptic meningitis affects children and teens more than adults. Other factors that may increase your chance of developing aseptic meningitis include: Being exposed to someone with a viral illnessThe season—mostly occurs in late spring and summerWorking in a daycare or healthcare settingHaving a compromised immune systemTaking certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or medications injected directly into the CSF
Aseptic meningitis may cause: HeadacheFever and chillsStiff neckGeneral feeling of illnessSore throatFatigueRashMuscle or abdominal painMental confusionSensitivity to lightNausea or vomiting
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
You may need to have samples taken of your bodily fluids. This can be done with: Blood testsLumbar puncture
—to evaluate CSF
Imaging tests can evaluate the brain and surrounding structures. This can be done with: MRI scanCT scan
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Most cases of aseptic meningitis improve with time. Treatment options include: Supportive care—Your doctor may recommend that you rest and drink plenty of fluids. You may need to be hospitalized to be monitored and to stay hydrated.
Medications—If specific causes of meningitis are suspected, your doctor may advise that you take:
Antivirals—for viral infectionAntibiotics—for bacterial infectionAntifungals—for fungal infectionPain relievers—to relieve symptomsSteroids—to reduce inflammationIn certain cases, your doctor may advise that you stop some medications.
Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
To help reduce your chance of aseptic meningitis: Wash your hands
often, especially if you:
Are in close contact with a person who has an infectionChanged the diaper of an infant with an infectionIf you work in a childcare or healthcare setting, clean objects and surfacesBe sure all of your vaccinations are up-to-date
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Meningococcal disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/about/index.html. Updated April 1, 2014. Accessed May 29, 2014.
Norris C, Danis P, Gardner T. Aseptic meningitis in the newborn and young infant.
Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(10):2761-2770.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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