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General Medical Questions
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Question : If you've been exposed to viral meningitis, how long does it take before symptoms occur and you know you've contracted it?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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February 06, 2014
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Meningitis literally means an inflammation of the soft sheets of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord. Sometimes the inflammation also directly affects the brain, a condition called encephalitis.

 

The symptoms of meningitis vary and range from mild to severe. You might only experience a slight headache and fatigue. Severe symptoms include high fever, confusion and potentially death.

Meningitis caused by viruses is usually mild and not life-threatening. Meningitis caused by bacteria is usually severe and can be fatal.

 

You ask about the incubation period. That’s the amount of time between when an infectious agent like a virus enters your body and you begin to feel symptoms. Many different viruses can cause meningitis.

 

The incubation is different for each. It can range from 1-2 days to 1-2 weeks. Many people exposed to someone with viral meningitis never catch the virus. Of those that do become infected with the virus, many do not develop meningitis.

 

If at any point in the next couple weeks you begin to develop headaches, fatigue, a sensation that bright lights bother you, nausea and vomiting, pain or stiffness in the back of your neck, or difficulty with concentration and thinking, call your doctor and be sure to say that you have been exposed to viral meningitis.

 

If you can, contact the person with viral meningitis to whom you were exposed. Ask them what tests were done to allow their doctor to make that diagnosis. Sometimes, a doctor will guess that a person has viral meningitis, but will not do the tests necessary to confirm that diagnosis.

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