Aseptic meningitis

Aseptic meningitis is an illness characterized by headache , fever , and inflammation of the lining of the brain (meninges) that is not caused by bacteria.

Alternative Names

Sterile meningitis

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

With aseptic meningitis, a person has signs and symptoms of meningitis but bacteria do not grow in culture. Many different things can cause aseptic meningitis, including viruses, fungi, tuberculosis, some medications, and infections near the brain or spinal cord, such as epidural abscesses. Coxsackie virus and echovirus, two members of a family of viruses called enteroviruses, account for about half the cases of aseptic meningitis. Other enteroviruses and mumps are additional causes. The incidence of these enteroviral infections increases in the summer and early fall. Enteroviruses are spread by hand-to-mouth contact, coughing, and to a lesser extent by contact with fecal matter . Mumps is spread by coughing or contact with secretions from the mouth and airway, with increased incidence in the spring. Herpesvirus, both type 1 ( herpes simplex or herpes labialis) and type 2 ( genital herpes ) can cause meningitis in children and especially infants. Chicken pox can also cause aseptic meningitis. Rabies virus causes both an inflammation of the brain and meninges or a meningoencephalitis. HIV can cause aseptic meningitis, especially soon after exposure (acute HIV syndrome). Some fungi and mycobacteria can cause aseptic meningitis, although this is much less common. Certain medications can also cause aseptic meningitis, including antibiotics and some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Risk factors for aseptic meningitis include exposure to someone with recent virus infection, exposure to children in a day care setting, being a health care worker, or having a suppressed immune system .

Signs and tests

Tests may reveal the following:

  • High or low white blood cell count in blood
  • Elevated white blood cells in spinal fluid
  • Bacterial cultures do not grow any bacteria Spinal fluid cultures or other special tests detect viruses or other forms of infection


    Treatment is needed for fungal or mycobacterial causes of aseptic meningitis. Supportive therapy consists of analgesic medications and management of complications of encephalitis, if that occurs. No specific treatment is available for viral aseptic meningitis.

    Expectations (prognosis)

    Aseptic meningitis is a benign disease, and people usually have full recovery in 5 to 14 days after the onset of symptoms. Fatigue and lightheadedness may persist longer in some people.


    Encephalitis (infection of brain itself) may develop rarely. Infection may last much longer in a person with a depressed immune system.

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if symptoms of aseptic meningitis occur.


    Good hand washing, immunization (against mumps , for example), and other general good health" measures may reduce the risk of developing an infection that can progress to meningitis .

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