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Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. Inflammation can cause symptoms such as confusion, a fever, a bad headache, and a stiff neck. Sometimes it leads to symptoms like seizures and personality changes. It can also cause long-term problems, such as trouble with speech or memory.
Encephalitis is uncommon, but it can be deadly. If you think you have symptoms of encephalitis, see a doctor right away.
Infection with a virus is the main cause of encephalitis. Different types of viruses can cause the illness. For example, West Nile virus can cause encephalitis when a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. Another type is the herpes simplex virus, which is the same virus that causes cold sores and genital herpes. A mother who is infected with the herpes virus can also pass the virus to her baby. If this happens and the baby gets encephalitis, it is very serious.
But most people who get these types of infections don't get encephalitis.
Symptoms of encephalitis can include:
More serious symptoms include:
If you think that you or your child has encephalitis, call your doctor right away.
Your doctor will ask questions about your past health and your symptoms. He or she will likely order tests to confirm the diagnosis. These may include:
If you have encephalitis, you will need to be treated in a hospital. Your treatment will depend on your symptoms and the cause of your illness. You may be treated right away with an antiviral medicine, such as acyclovir. Antiviral medicine may make symptoms less severe, especially if you get the medicine right away. If the doctor thinks that your symptoms are caused by bacteria, rather than by a virus, he or she may treat you with antibiotics.
You will also get care to ease your symptoms and allow your body to heal on its own. This is called supportive care. You may take medicines to reduce pain and fever or to stop seizures. In some cases, you may need a machine called a ventilator to help you breathe.
After you are out of the hospital, it may take several weeks, months, or even longer to fully recover from your symptoms. You can take care of yourself by eating well and getting plenty of rest. Follow your doctor's instructions on how much fluid to drink. If your doctor says it's okay, you can take nonprescription pain relievers for headaches. These include acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen, ibuprofen, or aspirin. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome.
Some people have long-term problems. If you have muscle weakness or problems with coordination, you may need physical therapy. If you have speech or memory loss, you may need speech therapy or occupational therapy.
Your chance of getting encephalitis is low. But there are things you can do to reduce your chances even more.
Learning about encephalitis:
|National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke|
|NIH Neurological Institute|
|P.O. Box 5801|
|Bethesda, MD 20824|
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a part of the National Institutes of Health, is the leading U.S. federal government agency supporting research on brain and nervous system disorders. It provides the public with educational materials and information about these disorders.
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This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It has a wide range of information about children's health—from allergies and diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.
Other Works Consulted
- Antiviral drugs (2013). Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 11(127): 19–30.
- Gilden DH (2008). Acute viral central nervous system diseases. In DC Dale, DD Federman, eds., ACP Medicine, section 11, chap. 16. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
- Tunkel AR, et al. (2008). The management of encephalitis: Clinical practice guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 47(3): 303–327.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease|
|Last Revised||October 26, 2011|
Last Revised: October 26, 2011
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