Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. The inflammation may be in the whole brain or just parts of the brain. The swelling can stop the brain from working properly, increase pressure in the skull, and damage brain tissue.
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Factors that may increase your chance of viral encephalitis include: Living, working, or playing in an area where mosquito- or tick-borne viruses are common.
Not being immunized against diseases, such as:
A suppressed immune system caused by certain medications, or health conditions, such as
HIV infectionNewborns of mothers who have
are at risk for herpes simplex encephalitis.
Certain cancers can overstimulate the immune system. This can increase the risk of encephalitis.
The symptoms may range from mild to severe. Severe encephalitis can lead to permanent brain damage and death.
Milder symptoms include: FeverWeakness, severe fatigueHeadacheSensitivity to lightStiff neck and backVomitingMuscle achesRashYawning
More severe symptoms may include: Changes in consciousnessPersonality changesConfusionIrritabilitySeizuresLoss of mobility
Progressive drowsinessTrouble walkingTrouble speakingTrouble swallowing
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
To look for signs of infection your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with: Blood testsLumbar puncture
to test the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord
biopsy may also be done to look for problems in the brain tissue.
Images may be taken of your head to look for swelling or damage. This can be done with: CT scanMRI scan
Your brain's electrical activity may be tested. This can be done with an electroencephalogram (EEG).
There are very few treatments for viruses, they simply have to run their course. Most treatment will focus on supporting the body until the virus has passed. Treatment will be based on individual needs but may include: Antiviral drugs to shorten the duration of the illnessSteroids to reduce inflammation in the brainDiuretics to decrease pressure inside the headIntubation to support breathing; may also help decrease pressure in the headAnticonvulsant medication to prevent and/or treat seizures
To help reduce your chance of encephalitis: Make sure that you and your children have recommended vaccinations
Protect yourself from mosquito bites especially in area at high risk of infection. Helpful steps include:
Fix window screens.Drain standing water around your home.Wear long clothes after dark.Use repellent when you are outside.If you are sleeping outside, use proper mosquito netting at night. Look for netting treated with insecticide.
Mann AP, Grebenciucova E, Lukas RV. Anti-N-methyl-D-aspartate-receptor encephalitis: diagnosis, optimal management, and challenges. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2014;10:517-525.
Nicholas MK, Lukas R, van Besein K. Youmans Textbook of Neurological Surgery, 6th Edition. Section II: General Neurosurgery. Chapter 46. AIDS. 2011.
NINDS meningitis and encephalitis information page. National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/encephalitis_meningitis/encephalitis_meningitis.htm. Updated April 16, 2014. Accessed September 23, 2014.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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