Encephalitis literally translates to “inflammation of the brain”. It may sound like a scary and serious condition, but it is rare. Of course, like any medical condition that involves any vital organ, leaving it untreated or not knowing that you’re already manifesting symptoms of the disease may prove fatal.
Encephalitis appears in two forms, and these forms are categorized by the way they infect the brain.
1. Primary encephalitis. In this case, the virus invades the brain and the spinal cord directly.
2. Secondary encephalitis. This form of encephalitis occurs when the virus attacks other body parts before secondarily affecting the brain.
What causes Encephalitis?
Encephalitis is commonly caused by viral infections. Example of viruses that may cause this condition is the herpes virus, arboviruses transmitted through certain insect bites, and rabies from animal bites. It can be caused by bacterial infections as well. Conditions like Lyme disease may sometimes lead to encephalitis. Certain parasitic conditions may also have the same effect.
Here are some of the more common causes of encephalitis:
Herpes viruses. These kinds of viruses may cause encephalitis, especially herpes simplex virus type 1. This type of virus is the most important cause of fatal sporadic encephalitis, but it is also very rare. Another herpes virus is the varicella-zoster virus. It causes mild encephalitis in adults and children. Lastly is the Epstein-Barr virus develops mild, and rarely fatal encephalitis cases.
Childhood infections. Encephalitis may come secondary to a vaccine-preventable childhood viral infection breakout, like (rubella), mumps, and German measles (rubella). Sometimes encephalitis may also be due to hypersensitivity. This is an overreaction of the body’s immune system to a foreign substance.
Arboviruses. These are viruses transmitted by mosquito or tick bites.
How would I know I have encephalitis?
Most people who experience viral encephalitis often only have mild symptoms. These symptoms may be as simple as headaches, irritability or lethargy, or even sometimes no symptoms, and this condition doesn’t normally last long. Serious encephalitis infections may manifest the following symptoms:
Confusion and disorientation
Sudden high fever
Nausea and vomiting
Bulging in the soft spots (fontanels) of the skull in infants.
Urgent signs and symptoms in adults may include altered levels of consciousness or mental disturbances. In infants, the key signs are a stiff neck and a bulging in the soft spots of the skull. In older children, watch for severe headaches, sudden personality changes, confusion, and sensitivity to light.
What medical complications may arise if I leave it untreated?
Severe untreated viral encephalitis may cause respiratory arrest, coma, and death. It may also leave marked mental impairment, which includes loss of memory, inability to speak coherently, lack of muscle coordination, paralysis, or hearing or vision defects.
How is encephalitis treated?
For people who have mild encephalitis, an adequate amount of rest and a healthy diet, which includes plenty of water, may be enough to let the body’s immune system fight the virus off. Medications may help with the headaches and the fevers. Anti-inflammatory medications may help decrease the swelling and the pressure on the skull. Antiviral medications may also help in those rare cases where regular medication and good old-fashioned rest don’t take effect.
Keeping yourself protected from the possible causes of this disease is the best way to ensure that you won’t acquire it. Since mosquitoes are the most common cause of encephalitis. Dressing protectively from mosquito bites, using mosquito repellents, or simply by making sure all necessary means are taken to minimize mosquito breeding inside the house is a sure-fire way of keeping yourself safe.