Viral Meningitis: Care Instructions

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The brain and inflammation

Your Care Instructions

Viral meningitis is an illness that causes inflammation in the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord. It is not the same as bacterial meningitis. The viral illness is often milder. Bacterial meningitis can be very serious.

You may have had a lumbar puncture test (spinal tap). This is done to find the cause of your symptoms. These often include a bad headache, a fever, and a stiff neck.

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

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Get plenty of rest. Stay in bed if you can.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids, enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. Choose water and other caffeine-free clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • If you have had a lumbar puncture test (spinal tap):
    • You may be told to lie flat in bed or with your head slightly raised for 1 to 2 hours. This is to keep your headache from getting worse.
    • You may feel tired and have a slight backache the day after the test. Some people have trouble sleeping for 1 to 2 days.
  • Wash your hands often to prevent spreading the infection to others.

When should you call for help?

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

  • You have a seizure.

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

  • You have a fever.
  • You have a severe headache.
  • You have a stiff neck.
  • You are nauseated or are vomiting.
  • You are confused or cannot think clearly.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You notice new numbness or weakness.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Current as of: November 18, 2017