Encephalitis : Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Encephalitis is a rare, life-threatening disease which causes inflammation in the brain by either virus infection or immune system mistakenly destroys the healthy brain cell instead of the infected cell. Rarely, it can also be caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. Two main types of encephalitis are primary (a virus directly attack the brain tissues or spinal cord) and secondary (infection start in any part of the body and then reached to the brain). It mostly occurs in children or older people or those who have a weekend immune system.
Symptoms of Encephalitis
The symptoms of it vary with the severity of the disease.
- Sick feeling
- Agitation, confusion and hallucinations
- Hearing or speech problems
- Loss of consciousness
Infants or children with encephalitis:
- Body stiffness
- Bulging fontanel on the infant’s skull
- Poor feeding
Causes of Encephalitis
The exact cause of it is not clear. But there are many known causes, which include:
- Viral infection: The most common viral infection is herpes simplex infection, which can cause severe brain damage and lead to death. Other viral infections are poliovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, measles virus, and rabies virus, mosquito-borne viruses, and tick-borne viruses.
- Bacterial and other infections: Bacterial infection can cause bacterial meningitis, which may lead to encephalitis. Protozoal or parasite infestations cause malaria, primary amoebic or toxoplasmosis that also lead encephalitis.
- Autoimmune response: Autoimmune encephalitis arises when the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy brain cell instead of the infected cell.
As it progress, it may lead to serious complications, such as:
- Personality and behavior changes
- Memory loss
- Defects in vision or hearing
- Completely damage the brain which leads to coma or death
Diagnosis usually depends upon the symptoms, and the following test confirms it:
- Brain imaging: Magnetic resonance imaging and computerized tomography (CT) scan detect the inflammation in the brain caused by it.
- Electroencephalography (EEG): The EEG captures the abnormal signal produce by the encephalitis.
- Lumbar puncture: Lumbar puncture is a procedure in which a needle is inserted in the lower back to remove the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Then the sample is tested to check the presence of inflammation and infection in the brain.
- Brain biopsy: Small tissue removed from the brain for detecting the encephalitis.
- Other laboratory tests: Sample of blood, urine or secretion from the throat can be tested to check the presence of viral encephalitis.
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR): This test is used to detect the herpes simplex virus in CSF.
Prevention of Encephalitis
The effective ways to prevent viral are:
- Avoid exposure to viruses
- Current vaccination should be given that protect the children from illnesses that lead to encephalitis
- Avoid mosquito’s bites by applying mosquito repellent on face or clothes
- Keep home mosquito-free by using mosquito spray and also clean the water sources outside the home by using chemicals.
The treatment of it is symptomatic. The mild one can be treated by taking proper bed rest, sufficient fluids and anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve symptoms such as fever and headache, but severe encephalitis needs following treatments;
- Antiviral medications: Virus encephalitis can be cured by using antiviral medicines
- Corticosteroids: It helps to reduce the swelling in the brain
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics are used to treat the secondary encephalitis which is caused by bacteria or protozoa
- Anticonvulsant medications: Anticonvulsants can be used for the treatment of seizures, restlessness, and irritability.
- Other therapies: Occupational, physical and psychotherapy are required to cure its complications and to improve the quality of life of infected patients.