Viral meningitis characteristically presents with fever, headache and neck stiffness. Fever is the result of cytokines released that affect the thermoregulatory neurons of the hypothalamus. Cytokines and increased intracranial pressure stimulate nociceptors in the brain that lead to headaches. Neck stiffness is the result of inflamed meninges stretching due to flexion of the spine. In contrast to bacterial meningitis, symptoms are often less severe and do not progress as quickly. Nausea, vomiting and photophobia (light sensitivity) also commonly occur, as do general signs of a viral infection, such as muscle aches and malaise. Increased cranial pressure from viral meningitis stimulates the area postrema, which causes nausea and vomiting. Photophobia is due to meningeal irritation. In severe cases, people may experience concomitant encephalitis (meningoencephalitis), which is suggested by symptoms such as altered mental status, seizures or focal neurologic deficits.