Encephalitis is a brain infection typically caused by a virus or bacteria. The infection causes inflammation in the brain that leads to headache, confusion, fever and even life-threatening symptoms like seizures, stroke and brain damage. It is closely related to meningitis, which is an infection of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord (the meninges). When the two diseases occur together, it’s called encephalomyelitis.
Causes of Encephalitis
In the vast majority of cases, encephalitis is caused by a virus, though it can also sometimes be a bacterial infection. In many instances, encephalitis occurs with few symptoms because the immune system is able to successfully fight it off. When encephalitis occurs, it is often a complication of a previous viral infection or immunization; it can also occur after an animal or insect bite.
Symptoms and Treatment
In mild cases, someone with encephalitis will develop flu-like symptoms. As the disease progresses, the symptoms become more severe and can include muscle weakness, problems speaking or hearing, personality changes, hallucinations, memory loss, sudden dementia and other mental problems. The end result in the most severe instances can be stroke, brain damage and even death.
Anyone with encephalitis should be closely monitored by doctors. Milder cases of the disease can be treated at home with bed rest, fluids and medications to relieve fever and headaches. More severe cases require hospitalization. In the hospital, the disease is often treated with antiviral drugs as well as treatments and medications to reduce pain, seizures, breathing problems and brain swelling. If a person experiences long-lasting brain problems as a result of an encephalitis infection, some forms of speech, physical and other types of therapy may be required to help with daily functions.
SOURCES: U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke