Encephalitis refers to an inflammation of the brain that is usually caused by a previous virus infection such as mononucleosis. Encephalitis disease can occur in two forms: primary and secondary.

Primary encephalitis is more dangerous to an infected person's health. However, secondary encephalitis is far more common and is typically caused by an infection of another part of the body, which then spreads to the brain.

Infections that may cause encephalitis in adolescents and children include the herpes simplex virus, measles, mumps, rubella, and the Epstein-Barr virus that causes infectious mononucleosis.

Encephalitis: Signs and Symptoms

If you or your child have had mononucleosis, knowing the signs and symptoms of encephalitis can help you identify the infection early and receive proper treatment.

Some of these signs may begin to appear alongside the symptoms of mono. However, in some cases the symptoms of encephalitis may appear without warning.

The signs and symptoms of the milder version of the encephalitis disease can include a fever, headache, poor appetite, lack of energy and an overall feeling of sickness. More serious infections of encephalitis can include the following symptoms related to the central nervous system:

  • severe headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stiff neck
  • confusion or disorientation
  • seizures or convulsions
  • speech or hearing troubles
  • hallucinations
  • personality changes
  • memory loss
  • drowsiness
  • loss of consciousness

In infants, signs of encephalitis include vomiting, a bulging of the soft spot on the head (fontanel), constant crying particularly when being picked up, and body stiffness.

When To Call A Doctor

If you or your child are recovering from an illness, it is important to seek immediate medical attention if the following symptoms of encephalitis are experienced:

  • inability to look at bright lights
  • vision problems such as double vision
  • difficulty walking or difficulty moving the arms or legs
  • loss of sensation in parts of the body
  • stiff neck or severe headaches
  • speech and hearing difficulties
  • personality changes or memory troubles
  • seizures or loss of consciousness

It is important to seek immediate medical care if an infant is experiencing the following encephalitis symptoms:

  • high fever of at least 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius)
  • swelling of the soft spot
  • body stiffness or floppiness
  • lethargy
  • decreased appetite
  • vomiting
  • unusually constant crying

Treatment of Encephalitis

It is important to receive early treatment of encephalitis so as to prevent complications associated with the disease such as mental impairment, memory loss, inability to speak coherently, lack of muscle coordination, paralysis, and vision defects.

Severe cases of viral encephalitis can cause respiratory arrest, coma, and death.

Most cases of encephalitis lead to a full recovery. The symptoms of most types of encephalitis will usually last for one week; however, recovery from the disease can last from several weeks to several months.

Treatment of encephalitis will usually require hospitalization in an intensive care unit, where the patient's blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and body fluids can be closely monitored so as to prevent further swelling of the brain.

Some forms of encephalitis may be treated by antiviral, and corticosteroids may be used to reduce brain swelling. Anticonvulsants may be administered if a child is experiencing seizures. Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen may be used to treat fever and headaches.

Some mild forms of encephalitis may only require monitoring at home. However, it is crucial to seek medical advice for information on appropriate treatment. Infants under the age of one year and adults over the age of 55 face the highest risk of death from encephalitis.

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