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Could my stiff neck be the sign of a serious illness?

I've had a stiff neck for around a week that doesn't want to go away. Is this a symptom of something serious like encephalitis?
You are definitely right to be concerned about a new symptom that is lasting for an extended period of time. In particular, the acute onset of a stiff neck, along with fever and headache, can be very worrisome for a serious disease like meningitis. Your symptoms have been going on for a week which means you likely do not have meningitis, but you should be evaluated by a doctor right away to determine what other testing might be required. Severe muscle strain/spasm (called torticollis) can cause significant neck pain without being a life-threatening issue, but any kind of central nervous system infection (including a subacute viral infection) can be very serious. The most important thing to determine when a patient presents with a stiff neck such as yours is what other symptoms and exam findings are associated with it. Evaluating whether you've had a fever/chills, travel, sick contact exposure, headache, nausea, vomiting, vision changes, or any abnormalities on a neurological exam will be crucial--which is why it is so important you be evaluated right away! Please see your doctor.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.

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