The Mystery of Encephalitis Explained

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The condition of encephalitis is a very rare one- only affecting about one in 200,000 people in the United States of America each year.

Encephalitis is a condition that is characterized by the inflammation of the tissue of the brain. When it does strike, it can be extremely dangerous.

This condition can result in changes in personality, weakness, seizures, and a host of other symptoms- depending upon which area of the brain is being affected.

Those that are most likely to develop this condition are:

  • Children
  • Elderly
  • Individuals with a weakened immune system

The condition of encephalitis is typically caused by one of several different viral infections- therefore, it is sometimes considered to be viral encephalitis.

In most cases, individuals with this condition can expect a full recovery.

The most appropriate treatments and the chances of a full recovery are dependent upon the virus that is involved as well as the severity of the inflammation.

As mentioned, there are several different types of encephalitis:

  • Acute
  • Para-infectious

Individuals with acute encephalitis should know that the infection is having a direct effect on their brain cells.

On the other hand, if an individual has para-infectious encephalitis, their spinal cord and brain have become inflamed within one or two weeks of contracting a bacterial or viral infection.

Causes of Encephalitis

There are many different causes for the condition of encephalitis. Viral encephalitis could possibly occur either during or even after an infection of one of several different viral illnesses. These viral illnesses include the following:

  • Rubella
  • Chickenpox
  • Influenza
  • Herpes simplex
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rabies
  • West Nile virus

One of the more common and more serious of these causes of viral encephalitis is herpes simplex type 1.

This is because encephalitis that is related to the herpes virus can erupt very quickly, causing mental changes and/or seizures- which could ultimately lead to a coma or even death.

This type of viral encephalitis occurs when the herpes virus travels to your brain instead of moving through your body to the surface of your skin.

The more common symptom of this virus is a cold sore. Recognizing the condition of viral encephalitis related to herpes early and treating it could potentially save a life.

However, don’t worry- just because you are prone to cold sores does not mean that you are likely to develop the condition of encephalitis.

Another common form of encephalitis is arbovirus encephalitis. This is a condition that is caused by various viruses that are transmitted to humans through bugs, such as ticks and mosquitoes.

This is different than encephalitis caused by herpes in that this type of encephalitis is seasonal- typically occurring in the summer through early fall- and is often regional, that is centered around a particular region, such as in the case of St. Louis encephalitis.

In very rare cases, parasitic, fungal, rieckettsial, or bacterial infections can lead to the condition of encephalitis.

In addition, cancer or exposure to specific medications and/or toxins can lead to the condition of encephalitis- which is also rare.

What is encephalitis

Symptoms of Encephalitis

There are several different symptoms of encephalitis and typically are severe and sudden. These signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Drowsiness/lethargy- potentially coma
  • Weakness in one- or multiple- areas of the body
  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Changes in personality
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Bulging soft spots in infants
  • Seizures

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek medical help as soon as possible.

Call an ambulance or get to your nearest emergency room. The longer you wait, the worse it will become.

Diagnosing Encephalitis

In order to diagnose the condition of encephalitis, your physician will take all of your symptoms into account as well as ask you about any illnesses you’ve had recently and any potential exposure to certain viruses- that is being near other individuals who have been sick or in an area with a high tick and/or mosquito population.

In addition to the above, your physician may also do an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging scan, an electroencephalogram- or EEG, or even a spinal tap.

Blood tests may also be performed in order to check the presence of viruses or bacteria in your system as well as any immune response your body has had to them.

In very rare cases, a biopsy of the brain may be performed, in which a sample of brain tissue will be removed and sent to the lab where they can confirm the diagnosis of encephalitis- especially when the symptoms are getting worse and treatments don’t seem to be working.

It is critical for your physician to identify the type of encephalitis you have so that he or she can provide the most appropriate treatment.

Treating Encephalitis

Since it can be extremely serious if you develop complications related to the condition of encephalitis, you will need to be put in the hospital.

The treatment provided by your physician will depend heavily upon your condition and your age- as well as what has caused your condition and the form of encephalitis that you have.

If your encephalitis has been the result of a bacterial infection, the physician can order antibiotics to treat it.

If you have encephalitis due to herpes simplex, you will be given supportive care, as well as antiviral therapies.

There are some other treatments that may be used to bring your fever down, make sure that you stay hydrated, treat any seizures when/if they develop, and finally to lower pressure in your skull.

If you are able to receive the appropriate care, you will most likely be able to recover from the condition of encephalitis.

Keep in mind that the elderly and infants are at an increased risk of having permanent brain damage from encephalitis.

Prevention of Encephalitis

Within the medical community, there has been great progress in prevention of some of the causes of encephalitis.

For example, smallpox has been eliminated and vaccines have been created to combat measles, rubella, and mumps- as these are common causes of encephalitis in children.

In addition, vaccines have been created for those individuals who often travel to high-risk areas.

Some of the other ways to prevent encephalitis are avoiding viruses that can cause the condition and making sure that you take steps to protect yourself against tick and mosquito bites.