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Encephalitis

Encephalitis is a brain disorder that is caused due to inflammation of the brain cells. The exact cause of encephalitis is not known, however, the viral infection is a major factor known to cause encephalitis.

Encephalitis caused due to viral infections can be classified into two types, namely the primary infection and secondary infection. Primary viral infection is known to arise in the brain itself, while secondary infections occur when infections start in other parts of the body and travel to the brain.

An individual can also observe the change in thinking ability, movement and seizures in chronic conditions of encephalitis. Prolonged disease condition of encephalitis can be fatal.

Signs and symptoms

The most common symptoms of viral encephalitis include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Body pains

Some of the severe symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Hearing and speech impairment
  • Loss of sensation in a particular part of the body
  • Paralysis

The signs and symptoms in children include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Fever
  • Body stiffness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bulging of fontanels (soft spots on the skull) of the infant

Causes

The organism that causes encephalitis includes:

  • Herpes simplex virus
  • Epstein’s Barr virus
  • Poliovirus
  • Coxsackievirus
  • West Nile virus
  • La Crosse virus
  • Powassan virus (tick-borne virus)
  • Rabies virus
  • Measles
  • Mumps

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of encephalitis includes:

  • Image scans: Image scans such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan and computed tomography (CT) scan are performed to diagnose the underlying cause such as swelling, tumor, injury and blood clot.

 

  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): The test is performed to monitor the brain’s electrical activity by placing small discs with thin wires over the scalp. The nerve impulses produced are then recorded on the electroencephalograph that helps in the diagnosis of encephalitis.

 

  • Brain biopsy: Brain biopsy is done to diagnose the abnormalities in the brain. It is performed by collecting a sample of the affected tissue from the brain for testing. This test is only performed when the condition worsens even after using the prescribed medicines.

 

  • Other Laboratory tests: The samples of blood, urine and culture tests are performed to determine the exact cause of viral or other infections.

Treatment

Medication therapy

The medication therapy for encephalitis may include anti-inflammatory agents and anti-viral drugs. These drugs are usually prescribed in combination to treat infections and inflammation caused due to the disease.

  • Anti-inflammatory agents: These agents are used to relieve symptoms such as a headache, fever, body pains and muscle weakness.
  • Anti-viral drugs: These drugs are used to treat viral infections caused due to air-borne or insect-borne infections.

Apart from the use of medications, individuals are recommended complete bed rest and are also asked to drink plenty of water. However, it is advised to consult the doctor if the condition does not improve even after regular use of the medicines.

Supportive Care

In severe conditions of encephalitis, the individual may require special supportive care that may include:

  • Intravenous fluids: These fluids are administered to ensure proper nourishment of the body, as the individual may have a poor appetite while suffering from severe encephalitis conditions.
  • Airway support: The individual may require breathing assistance if there is difficulty in breathing in severe encephalitis conditions. The doctor may closely monitor the respiratory and cardiac function during the course of intensive treatment.

Management

On recovery from the infection, special care and follow-up sessions are required to prevent further complications. The individual may be recommended rehabilitative care and support for better response and recovery from the condition.

The following are the non-pharmacological therapies followed for better management of encephalitis

Psychotherapy: This therapy may include skills to improve the mood and personality disorders that may be affected due to encephalitis. It helps in treating the psychological disorders of the individual.

Physical therapy: This therapy helps in improving the muscle flexibility and motor coordination that is usually affected due to muscle stiffness and rigidity.

Speech therapy: This therapy helps improve the speech that may be affected due to loss of muscle control and coordination.

Vaccinations:  The doctor may recommend a few vaccinations for the child, which helps build immunity and fight infections.

Precaution: It is advised to maintain hygiene by washing hands before and after using the toilet. It prevents the spread of viral infections from person to person.

 

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