Encephalitis

Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. The inflammation may involve the whole brain, or just parts of the brain. Encephalitis may just occur in individuals (sporadic) or may affect many people in a particular area (epidemic).

  • Causes


    Encephalitis is most often caused by a viral infection. In the United States, the most common cause of sporadic encephalitis is the
    herpes simplex virus
    (HSV). Epidemic causes of encephalitis are usually
    mosquito
    or tick-borne viruses.

    The most common viruses that cause encephalitis include:


    • Viruses carried by mosquitoes such as
      West Nile
      or
      Eastern equine encephalitis
    • Herpes simplex virus
      (HSV)
    • Chickenpox
      virus
    • Enterovirus
    • Influenza
      virus
    • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
    • Polio
      virus
    • Measles
      virus
    • Mumps
      virus
    • Rotavirus
    • Rabies

    Not all encephalitis is caused by a virus. Some may be due to an overreaction of the immune system.

  • Definition

    Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. The inflammation may involve the whole brain, or just parts of the brain. Encephalitis may just occur in individuals (sporadic) or may affect many people in a particular area (epidemic).

    Encephalitis
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  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    Tests may include:

    • Blood tests
    • Lumbar puncture—to evaluate cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain
    • CT scan
      and/or
      MRI scan—to evaluate internal structures of the head
    • Electroencephalogram
      (EEG)—
      to look for abnormal electrical activity in the brain

    • Brain
      biopsy—removal of a small sample of brain tissue to test for signs of infection

  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of getting encephalitis, take these steps:

    • Make sure that you and your children are vaccinated against preventable viral illnesses

    • Protect yourself from mosquito bites

      • Fix window screens
      • Drain standing water around your home
      • Wear long clothes after dark
      • Use repellent when you are outside
      • Use proper mosquito netting at night. Look for netting treated with insecticide.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of encephalitis include:

    • Living, working, or playing in an area where mosquito-borne viruses are common

    • Not being immunized against diseases, such as:

      • Measles
      • Mumps
      • Chickenpox
      • Polio
      • Rotavirus

    • A suppressed immune system caused by certain medications, or health conditions, such as
      HIV infection
    • Having cancer—sometimes immune system overactivity may be the first sign of cancer


    Newborns of mothers who have
    genital herpes simplex
    are at risk for herpes simplex encephalitis

  • Symptoms

    The symptoms may range from mild to severe. Severe symptoms can include permanent neurological damage. Encephalitis can also lead to death.

    Milder symptoms include:

    • Fever
    • Weakness, severe fatigue
    • Headache
    • Sensitivity to light
    • Stiff neck and back
    • Vomiting
    • Muscle aches
    • Rash
    • Yawning

    More severe symptoms may include:

    • Changes in consciousness
    • Personality changes
    • Confusion
    • Irritability
    • Seizures

    • Partial or complete
      paralysis
    • Progressive drowsiness
    • Trouble walking
    • Trouble speaking
    • Trouble swallowing

  • Treatment

    Treatment is mostly supportive. It may include:

    • Antiviral drugs to shorten the duration of the illness
    • Steroids to reduce brain inflammation
    • Diuretics to decrease elevated intracranial pressure
    • Intubation with hyperventilation to decrease elevated intracranial pressure, and to maintain respiration and ventilation
    • Anticonvulsants to prevent and/or treat seizures