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What Is Encephalitis, Its Causes, and Symptoms?

Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju

Encephalitis is a severe and potentially deadly condition that causes brain infection. It can be caused by many factors, including infections, injuries, or autoimmune diseases. Symptoms vary depending on the cause of encephalitis but may include brain fever, headache, seizures, or coma.

Treatment of brain infection depends on the cause of encephalitis but may include antibiotics, antivirals, or steroids. For some people, encephalitis can lead to long-term health problems such as epilepsy or memory loss.

Encephalitis affects 10-15 persons per 100,000 people yearly, with over 250,000 cases identified in the United States in the previous decade alone. The illness can affect anybody, although it is more common among young individuals. Potentially, any virus can cause encephalitis, but not every person infected with the virus will suffer from this disease.

Keep reading to learn more about this serious condition and how to get treatment if you are affected by it.

 

What Are the Leading Causes of Encephalitis?

Many potential causes of encephalitis include viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. In some cases, the exact cause may never be determined.

The most common viral causes of encephalitis include:

  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV) types 1 and 2 are the same viruses that cause cold sores and genital herpes.
  • Varicella zoster virus (VZV) – is the same virus that causes chickenpox and shingles.
  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) – is the same virus that causes mono.
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV).
  • Human herpesvirus 6 (HHV6).
  • West Nile virus.
  • Japanese encephalitis virus.

What are the leading causes of encephalitis

Bacterial causes of encephalitis include:

  • Tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
  • Tabies – this is usually caused by a bite from an infected animal, such as a dog or bat.
  • Meningitis – this is an infection of the meninges, the thin membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.
  • Syphilis – this is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum.

 

Fungal causes of encephalitis include:

  • Cryptococcosis – this is caused by the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans, which is found in soil and bird droppings.
  • Histoplasmosis – this is caused by the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum, which is found in bird and bat droppings.

 

Parasitic causes of encephalitis include:

  • Sleeping sickness – this is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma brucei, which is found in Africa.
  • Cysticercosis – this is caused by the parasite Taenia solium, which is found in undercooked pork.

 

There are also several noninfectious causes of encephalitis, including:

  • Autoimmune conditions, such as lupus.
  • Tumors.
  • Head injuries.
  • Stroke.

As you can see, there are a lot of sources of this disease, so you should always be careful to stay healthy.

 

What Is the Range of Encephalitis Types?

Fortunately, this severe disease does not have many types. There are only two types of encephalitis: primary and secondary.

Primary encephalitis is caused by a virus, such as the herpes simplex virus (HSV), that directly attacks the brain. 

Secondary encephalitis is caused by an infection elsewhere in the body that spreads to the brain. Bacteria, fungi, or parasites can cause this.

These types of diseases include the following varieties:

  • Tick-borne encephalitis (spring-summer, taiga).
  • Japanese encephalitis.
  • Economo encephalitis (epidemic, lethargic, sleeping sickness).
  • Herpetic encephalitis.
  • Measles encephalitis.
  • Encephalitis with chickenpox.
  • Influenza encephalitis (toxic-hemorrhagic).

 

What Are the Symptoms of Encephalitis?

What are the symptoms of encephalitis

Symptoms of encephalitis can vary depending on the cause but often include:

  • Headache.
  • Brain fever.
  • Seizures.
  • Confusion.
  • Memory loss.
  • Weakness.
  • Paralysis.
  • Coma.
  • Death.

Encephalitis is a severe and potentially life-threatening inflammation of the brain. The most common symptoms of encephalitis include headache, high fever, seizures, and confusion. In severe cases, it can lead to coma or death.

 

What Are the Possible Encephalitis Complications?

Encephalitis can cause a range of complications, including:

  • Seizures.
  • Coma.
  • Personality changes.
  • Problems with vision or hearing.
  • Paralysis.
  • Death (in severe cases).
  • Acute encephalopathy.
  • Swelling brain.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for the best possible outcome.

 

As for the long-term effects of encephalitis, in some cases, people who have had this disease may experience the next effects, such as:

  • Fatigue.
  • Headaches.
  • Memory problems.
  • Mood swings.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Paralysis (in severe cases).

You must talk to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Treatments available can help lessen the symptoms and improve your quality of life.

 

How Encephalitis Affects Nerve System

Encephalitis is a rare but severe condition that causes inflammation of the brain. Encephalitis can occur when viruses or other pathogens enter the brain and begin to multiply. This can cause the immune system to respond, leading to inflammation.

With encephalitis, the brain is affected, so neurons (nerve cells in the brain) suffer. People with encephalitis experience consequences like stroke, head injury, and other brain diseases. As a rule, they are associated with impaired cognitive and speech functions.

 

What Is the Treatment of Encephalitis?

The most common treatment for encephalitis is an antiviral medication. If the person has a bacterial infection, they may also be prescribed antibiotics. In some cases, corticosteroids may be used to reduce inflammation. Treatment will also focus on relieving symptoms and supporting the person’s recovery. This may include providing oxygen, fluids, and medications to control seizures or fever.

The person may also need to be hospitalized for monitoring and support. Recovery from encephalitis can take weeks or months. Some people experience long-term effects, such as memory problems, learning difficulties, or paralysis. With early diagnosis and treatment, most people make a full recovery and avoid the effects mentioned above. However, encephalitis can be fatal in some cases.

 

Treatment also may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection.
  • Antiviral medications to treat a viral infection.
  • Steroids to reduce inflammation.
  • Pain relievers for headaches and muscle aches.
  • Sedatives to help relieve anxiety or agitation.

 

How to Prevent This Brain Infection? 

The best way to prevent viral encephalitis is to avoid exposure to viruses that can cause the disease. Try to practice good hygiene. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet and before and after meals.

People often get encephalitis from parasites that actively infect people in the summer. They are usually found in thick grass or near water. An ordinary trip to the river can be a complete disaster for your health. To avoid this, check your body for ticks several times during your time in nature. Also, inspect yourself before leaving. If you are not alone, you can ask a friend for help and check it.

This procedure does not take much time, but it can save your life or the life of your loved ones.

 

Diagnosis

You should be checked for encephalitis if you have a combination of symptoms such as fever, altered state of consciousness, seizures, or changes in behavior or movement. It is critical to detect encephalitis as soon as possible to reduce mortality risk or long-term consequences.

Your healthcare professional may run tests, do a medical exam, and review your medical history to diagnose encephalitis. The doctor may inquire about your immunization history, recent colds, and other respiratory or gastrointestinal problems. They will want to know whether you have recently been bitten by a tick, if you have been around pets or other animals, or if you have gone to specific regions.

Diagnosis

Tests for encephalitis can include:

  • A brain MRI or CT scan is a type of neuroimaging.
  • A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) will be performed to look for symptoms of infection in the brain or spinal cord.
  • EEG is used to detect seizures or particular patterns of electrical activity in the brain.
  • Blood, urine, and stool tests identify the organisms or antibodies responsible for an illness.

 

Additional tests may include:

  • A sputum culture examines the material coughed up from the lungs to determine whether or not specific infections are present.
  • A biopsy of damaged brain tissue may be conducted in rare circumstances to allow for inspection under a microscope.
  • Intracranial pressure monitoring (ICP) detects the pressure within the skull to monitor brain swelling.

 

What Is the Prognosis for Encephalitis?

The prognosis for encephalitis varies depending on the cause and severity of the condition. In general, however, the earlier encephalitis is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome is likely to be. With proper medical treatment, most people make a full recovery. In some cases, however, encephalitis can lead to long-term complications or even death. If you or someone you know have encephalitis, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for the best possible outcome.

Persistent neurological and psychiatric complications develop in 10–20% of infected individuals. The lethality of the infection is 1-2% for the European subtype and 20-25% for the Far East; usually, death occurs within 5-7 days after the onset of neurological symptoms.

 

Bottom Line

Encephalitis is a severe inflammation of the brain. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or other organisms. Autoimmune reactions or certain drugs can also cause encephalitis. The symptoms of encephalitis include headache, fever, seizures, and confusion. The severity of the symptoms depends on the cause and how quickly the condition is treated. Treatment for encephalitis typically includes hospitalization and aggressive supportive care. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to a good outcome.

Since this is a fatal disease, it is essential to get the necessary help promptly. If you notice at least one of the above symptoms in yourself or your loved ones, immediately contact the clinic for assistance.

To get only professional and high-quality help, you should consider Lone Star Neurology. To make an appointment, you can use the contact button on the website. After that, you are guaranteed to receive professional assistance from an experienced team.

 

FAQs

  • What are the warning signs of encephalitis?

They are:

  • Headache.
  • Disorders of movement.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Sound sensitivity.
  • Stiffness in the neck.

 

  • What happens if you get encephalitis?

Encephalitis can cause minor flu-like symptoms, such as a fever or headache, or it might cause no symptoms. Encephalitis can also result in severe symptoms such as disorientation, convulsions, or difficulties with mobility or senses such as sight or hearing.

  • How long can encephalitis last?

The acute phase of the sickness (when symptoms are the most intense) usually lasts up to a week. Complete healing might take several weeks or months.

  • How do you test for encephalitis?

Viruses and other infectious agents can be found in blood, urine, or back-of-the-neck excretions. Electroencephalogram (EEG), the electrical activity of your brain is monitored by electrodes placed to your scalp. Specific abnormal patterns may indicate encephalitis.

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Edward Medina
Edward Medina
15:34 30 Jun 22
Just such an amazing staff that makes you feel like part of their family. I’ve been going there for over 5 years now... and each visit I get the very best care and treatments that I have ever received in the 20+ years that I’ve been dealing with severe debilitating migraines. Since i started seeing them the number of my migraines has dropped from 15-20 a month to 2-3 every 3 month. I highly recommend them …they will change your life!read more
Daneisha Johnson
Daneisha Johnson
22:20 19 May 22
Dr. Askari was very kind and explained everything so I could understand. The other staff were nice as well. I would... have gave 5 stars but I was a little taken aback when I checked in and had to pay 600.00 upfront. I think that should have been discussed in a appointment confirmation call or email just so I could have been prepared.read more
Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper
16:54 29 Apr 22
I love the office staff they are friendly and very helpful. Dr. JODIE is very caring and understanding to your needs... and wants to help you. I will go back. would recommend Dr. Dr. Jodie to other Patients in a heart beat. The team works well together.read more
Linda M
Linda M
19:40 02 Apr 22
I was obviously stressed, needing to see a neurologist. The staff was so patient and Dr. Ansari was so kind. At one... point he told me to relax, we have time, when I was relaying my history of my condition. That helped ease my stress. I have seen 3 other neurologists and he was the only one who performed any assessment tests on my cognitive and physical skills. At one point I couldn't complete two assessments and got upset and cried. I was told, it's OK. That's why you're here. I was truly impressed, and super pleased with the whole experience!read more
Leslie Durham
Leslie Durham
15:05 01 Apr 22
I've been coming here for about 5 years. The staff are ALWAYS friendly and knowledgeable. The Doctors are the absolute... best!! Jodie Moore is always in such a great mood which is a plus when you are already stressed. Highly recommendedread more
Monica Del Bosque
Monica Del Bosque
14:13 25 Mar 22
Since my first post my thoughts have changed here. It's unfortunate. My doctor and PA were great, but the office staff... is horrible. They never call you back when they say they will, they misinform you, they cause you too much stress wondering what's going on, they don't keep you posted. They never answer the phone. At this point I've left four messages in the last week, and I have sent three messages. Twice from their portal and one direct email. No response. My appointment is on Monday morning at 8:30am, no confirmation on my insurance and what's going on. What the heck is going on, this is ridiculous!I've given up... the stress her office staff has put me through is just not worth it. You can do so much better, please clean house, either change out your office staff, or find a way for them to be more efficient please. You have to do something. This is not how you want to run your practice. It leaves a very bad impression on your business.read more
Ron Buckholz
Ron Buckholz
23:32 23 Mar 22
I was actually pleasantly surprised with this visit! It took me a long time to get the appointment scheduled because no... one answers your phones EVER! After a month, I finally got in, and your staff was warm, friendly, and I was totally impressed! I feel like you will take care of my needs!read more
Steve Nabavi
Steve Nabavi
16:28 16 Mar 22
It was a nice visit. Happy staff doing all they can do to comfort the patients in a very calming environment. You ask... me they are earned a big gold star on the fridge. My only complaint they didn't give me any cookies.read more
Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis
16:10 10 Feb 22
Had very positive appointments with Jodie and Dr. Sheth for my migraine care. Jodie was so fast with the injections and... has so much valuable info. I started to feel light headed during checkout and the staff was SO helpful—giving me a chair, water, and taking me into a private room until I felt better. Highly recommend this practice for migraine patients, they know what they’re doing!!read more
Joshua Martinez
Joshua Martinez
16:02 10 Dec 21
I was scheduled to be checked and just want to say that the staff was fantastic. They were kind and helpful. I was... asked many questions related to what was going on and not once did I feel as though I was being brushed off. The front desk staff was especially great in assisting me. I'm scheduled to go back for a mri and am glad that I'll be going there.read more
Isabel Ivy
Isabel Ivy
21:42 03 Nov 21
I had such a good experience with Lone Star Neurology, Brent my MRI Tech was so awesome and made sure I was very... comfortable during the appointment. He gave me ear plugs, a pillow, leg support and blanket, easiest MRI ever lol 🤣 My 72 hour EEG nurse Amanda was also so awesome. She made sure I was take care of over the 3 days and took her time with the electrodes to make sure it was comfortable for me! Paige was also a huge help in answering all my questions when it came to my test results, and letting me know her honest opinions about how I should go forth with my treatment.read more
Leslie Luce
Leslie Luce
17:37 20 Oct 21
The professionalism and want to help attitude of this office was present from the moment I contacted them. The follow... up and follow through as well as their willingness to find a way to schedule my dad was above and beyond. We visited two offices in the same day with the same experience. I am appreciative of this—we spend a lot of time with doctors and this was top notch start to finish.read more
robert Parker
robert Parker
16:38 16 Apr 21
I love going to this office. The staff is friendly and helpful. The doctor is great. I am getting the best... neurological tests and treatment I have ever had. The only reason I did not give them a 5 star rating is because it is impossible to reach a live person at the office to reschedule appointments. Every time I have tried to get through to the office it says all people are busy and I am sent to a voicemail. If they could get their phone answering fixed, I would give them a strong 5 stars.read more
MaryAnn Hornbaker
MaryAnn Hornbaker
00:26 25 Feb 21
Dr. Harney is an excellent Dr. I found him friendly , personable and thorough. I evidently am an unusual case. ... Therefore he spent a Hugh amount of time educating me. He even gave me literature to further explain my condition and how to follow up. This is something you rarely get from your doctors. So I am more than please with my doctor and his staff.read more
Roger Arguello
Roger Arguello
03:05 29 Jan 21
Always courteous, professional. The staff is very friendly and always work with you to find the best appointment time.... The care team has been great. Always taking the time to listen to your concerns and to find the best treatment.read more
Margaret Rowland
Margaret Rowland
01:12 27 Jan 21
I have been a patient at Lone Star Neurology for several years. Now both my adult daughters also are patients there. I... love Jodie. She is always so prompt whether it is a teleamed call are a visit in the office. She takes the time to explain everything to me and answers all my questions. I am so blessed to have Jodie as my doctor.read more
Susan Miller
Susan Miller
03:01 13 Jan 21
My husband had an accident 5 years ago and Lone Star Neurology has been such a blessing to us with my husbands care.... Jodie Moore is his provider and she is amazing! Jodie is very knowledgeable, caring, and thorough. She takes her time with you, making sure your needs are met and she is happy to answer any questions you may have. Lone Star Neurology’s patients are very lucky to have Jodie providing their care. Thank you Lone Star Neurology and especially Jodie for everything you have done for us. Jodie, you are the best!read more
Windalyn C
Windalyn C
01:32 09 Jan 21
Jodie is wonderful. She is very caring and knowledgeable. I have been to over a dozen neurologists, and none were able... to help me as much as they have here. Thanks!read more
Katie Kordel
Katie Kordel
00:40 09 Jan 21
Jodi Moore, nurse practitioner, is amazing. I have suffered from frequent, debilitating headaches for almost 20 years.... She has provided the best proactive and responsive care I have ever received. My quality of life has been greatly improved by her caring approach and tenacity in finding solutions.read more
Ellie Natsis
Ellie Natsis
15:41 07 Jan 21
I have had the best experience at this neurologist's office! For over a year I have been receiving iv treatments here... each month and my nurse, Bobbie is beyond wonderful!! She's so attentive, knowledgeable, caring, and detail oriented. She makes an otherwise uncomfortable experience much more pleasant and definitely puts me at ease! She also helps me with my insurance,ordering this specialty medication and dealing with the ordering process which is no easy feat.Needless to say, she goes above a beyond in every way and I'm so grateful to this office and to Bobbie for all they do for me!read more
Matt Morris
Matt Morris
15:39 07 Jan 21
Let me start by saying that I have been coming here for years. Due to my autoimmune disease, I am in this office... once every three weeks for multiple hours at a time. The office is very clean and the staff very friendly. My only complaint would be there communication via phone. They aren't the best at responding if you leave a voicemail and expect a call back. I understand that this is prob just due to the sheer number of alls they receive daily. What I can say I like the best about the office are the people. Bobby who handles my infusions is great. I never have any issues with her setting up my infusions. She is very quick to reply to messages sent via text and if she were to leave then my whole opinion of the office may change. I also enjoy people like Matt, Lauren, and Jodi. I appreciate all that they do for me and without this team I'm not sure I would be as happy as I am to visit the office as frequently as I have to. Please ensure that these folks are recognized as they are what makes my visit to this office so tolerable :).read more
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