Encephalitis

Also known as: viral encephalitis

What is encephalitis?

Encephalitis is a rare inflammation of the brain, which has a number of causes.


What causes encephalitis? 

Causes may vary depending on the season, and the geographic part of the country. Not infrequently no cause can be found. 


There are two main types of encephalitis:

  1. Primary encephalitis, where a virus directly infects the brain. The most common cause of encephalitis are viruses, (many vaccines have reduced the number of children affected by the measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox viruses); frequently carried by mosquitoes (e.g. Zika, Chikungunya and West Nile virus), and occasionally other animals (e.g. Rabies).  Encephalitis after a bacterial infection (e.g. Lyme disease) or parasitic infections (toxoplasmosis) carried by cats also occurs. In some children the cause is never found.
  2. Secondary encephalitis, where a child's immune system doesn't recognize the child's own cells and attacks them instead of attacking an infecting organism.


What are the symptoms of encephalitis?

Symptoms may include, a preceding flu-like or gastrointestinal disturbance followed by/with fever, headache, light sensitivity, sleepiness or irritability, difficulties with talking and walking, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, confusion and seizures, and in infants a “full” or “bulging fontanelle.”  


What are encephalitis care options?

Early diagnosis and management is important. Treatment will depend on the cause, how serious the disease, and in general will involve medications to control the infection, fever, seizures and to control an increase in pressure in the head if present. Sometimes a child might need help breathing with a machine (ventilator). Some severe cases of encephalitis can be managed with antiviral drugs in hospital. Milder situations may only need require supportive, rest, fluids and over-the-counter pain relievers. Following recovery, physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy may enhance full muscle and other system recovery.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: 10/31/2017 11:55:57 AM

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