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Viral Meningitis in Children: Care Instructions


Viral meningitis is an illness that causes inflammation in the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord. It's not the same as bacterial meningitis. The viral illness is often milder.

A lumbar puncture test (spinal tap) is usually done to help the doctor find out what is causing your child's symptoms. These often include a bad headache, a fever, and a stiff neck.

Most children get better without treatment in a few weeks. But some children may feel weak and tired for months after the illness.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest. Have your child stay in bed if you can.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • To prevent dehydration, have your child drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids until your child feels better. If your child has to limit fluids because of a health problem, talk with your doctor before you increase how much your child drinks.
  • Wash your hands and your child's hands often to prevent spreading the infection to others.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has a seizure.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has a severe headache.
  • Your child has a stiff neck.
  • Your child is nauseated or is vomiting.
  • Your child becomes confused or disoriented.
  • Your child has trouble thinking or concentrating.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You notice new numbness or weakness in your child.
  • Your child is not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.