Encephalitis is the swelling of the brain mainly caused by a virus. A lot of milder forms of encephalitis happen to people although they are not reported to doctors because the symptoms are mild and they heal on their own without leaving any damage. A more severe form of encephalitis, however, needs hospital care. Patients may or may not recover fully and incidence of permanent brain damage is very high.
Encephalitis can either be primary or secondary. Primary encephalitis is cause by direct viral infection to the brain and spinal cord. Secondary encephalitis on the other hand happens when a viral infection from other parts of the body reaches the brain.
Death from encephalitis is very high so that people having symptoms of the disease should go to a doctor immediately.
Symptoms of encephalitis
Mild encephalitis symptoms are often regarded by patients as for other disease like flu and they may recover from it without going to the doctor. The patient may have headache, lethargy, poor appetite, fever, and malaise. Severe encephalitis on the other hand has more serious symptoms. Severe headache, nausea, vomiting, confusion, stiff neck, seizure, loss of consciousness, personality change, hallucination, muscle weakness, partial paralysis, loss of sensation, and bulging of fontanel in babies are the symptoms.
Causes of encephalitis
Viruses that often cause severe encephalitis include herpes viruses, arbovirus, and rabies. Brain swelling from herpes viruses can be fatal; however, infection from these types of viruses is rare. Arbovirus infection brought about by mosquitoes can also be fatal. Examples of these viruses are West Nile, La Crosse, St. Louis, and Western Equine encephalitis. Bites from rabid animals like dogs, cats, squirrels, pigs, etc. can also cause fatal encephalitis if prompt treatment is not given.
The milder form of encephalitis can be caused by mumps, German measles, and chickenpox. The viruses that cause these diseases affect other parts of the body then travel to the brain to cause swelling. Bacterial meningitis and syphilis can sometimes cause encephalitis also.
Treatment of encephalitis
Because encephalitis is unpredictable, even mild encephalitis patients are advised to stay in a hospital for observation. Most viral infection has no known cure so that doctors are forced to give only supportive treatment to the patient. If the patient is seizing for example, anticonvulsants are given. Corticosteroids are also given to reduce the swelling. Herpes virus-induced encephalitis on the other hand may be treated with antiviral drugs that work against herpes viruses.
Prevention from encephalitis
To prevent developing encephalitis, people are advised to avoid virus vectors like mosquitoes and other animals. When outdoors, get protected against mosquito bites by wearing insect repellents and proper clothing. Immunization against measles, chickenpox, and mumps are also advised to avoid secondary encephalitis.
When to see a doctor
When a person or a child is suffering from a viral infection and he or she is showing symptoms of severe encephalitis, then he or she must be taken to a hospital for testing. Encephalitis can progress very fast and developing permanent damage to the brain is high so that hospital care is needed as soon as possible.
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