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Encephalitis

Definition:
Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain.

Causes:
Most cases of encephalitis are caused by a viral infection. The most common viruses that cause encephalitis include:

  • Viruses carried by mosquitoes
  • Chickenpox virus
  • Herpes simplex virus
  • Polio virus
  • Measles virus
  • Mumps virus
  • West Nile virus
  • Rabies
Risk Factors:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for encephalitis include:
  • Living, working, or playing in an area where mosquito-born viruses are common
  • Not being immunized against diseases such as:
    • Measles
    • Mumps
    • Chickenpox
    • Polio
  • Cancer
  • Immunosuppressive medications after organ transplant
  • AIDS
Symptoms:
Symptoms include:
  • Fever
  • Weakness, severe fatigue
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Stiff neck and back
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Rash
  • Personality changes
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Partial paralysis
  • Trouble walking
  • Trouble swallowing
Diagnosis:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include:

  • Blood Tests – to look for signs of infection
  • Spinal Tap – to test spinal fluid for signs of infection
  • CT and/or MRI scans of the head – to look for abnormal electrical actvity in the brain
  • Electroencephalogram(EEG) – to look for abnormal areas in the brain
  • Brain Biopsy – removal of a small sample of brain tissue to test for signs of infection
Treatment:
Treatment may include:
  • Antiviral drugs, such as intravenous acyclovir for herpes simplex encephalitis—may help shorten the duration of the illness
  • Steroid medications – to decrease brain swelling
  • Anticonvulsant medications – to prevent and/or treat seizures
Prevention:
Make sure that you and your children are vaccinated against preventable viral illnesses.
 
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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