Encephalitis - Overview, Signs and Symptoms
Journal of infectious diseases and diagnosis is an open access rapid peer reviewed journal in the field of Bacterial, Viral and Fungal Diseases. It is a bimonthly journal.
Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain tissue. The most common cause is viral infections. In rare cases it can be caused by bacteria or even fungi. There are two main types of encephalitis: primary and secondary. Primary encephalitis occurs when a virus directly infects the brain and spinal cord.
Causes of encephalitis include viruses such as herpes simplex virus and rabies as well as bacteria, fungi, or parasites. Other causes include autoimmune diseases and certain medications. In many cases the cause remains unknown. Risk factors include a weak immune system. Diagnosis is typically based on symptoms and supported by blood tests, medical imaging, and analysis of cerebrospinal fluid.
Signs and symptoms:
Adults with encephalitis present with acute onset of fever, headache, confusion, and sometimes seizures. Younger children or infants may present with irritability, poor appetite and fever. Neurological examinations usually reveal a drowsy or confused person. Stiff neck, due to the irritation of the meninges covering the brain, indicates that the patient has either meningitis or meningoencephalitis.
Sometimes the signs and symptoms are more severe, and might include:
- Confusion, agitation or hallucinations
- Loss of sensation or paralysis in certain areas of the face or body
- Muscle weakness
- Problems with speech or hearing
- Loss of consciousness (including coma)
In infants and young children, signs and symptoms might also include:
- Bulging in the soft spots (fontanels) of an infant's skull
- Nausea and vomiting
- Body stiffness
- Poor feeding or not waking for a feeding
The best way to prevent viral encephalitis is to take precautions to avoid exposure to viruses that can cause the disease.
- Practice good hygiene. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet and before and after meals.
- Don't share utensils. Don't share tableware and beverages.
- Teach your children good habits. Make sure they practice good hygiene and avoid sharing utensils at home and school.
- Get vaccinations. Keep your own and your children's vaccinations current. Before traveling, talk to your doctor about recommended vaccinations for different destinations.
People should only be diagnosed with encephalitis if they have a decreased or altered level of consciousness, lethargy, or personality change for at least twenty-four hours without any other explainable cause. Diagnosing encephalitis is done via a variety of tests:
- Brain scan, done by MRI, can determine inflammation and differentiate from other possible causes.
- EEG, in monitoring brain activity, encephalitis will produce abnormal signal.
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap), this helps determine via a test using the cerebral-spinal fluid, obtained from the lumbar region.
- Blood test
- Urine analysis
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing of the cerebrospinal fluid, to detect the presence of viral DNA which is a sign of viral encephalitis.
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