Encephalitis is an inflammation (swelling and irritation) of the brain. In
most cases, a
causes this inflammation.
Encephalitis is also called acute viral encephalitis or aseptic encephalitis.
Who Gets Encephalitis?
Encephalitis (in-seh-fuh-LYE-tus) is a rare disease. Most cases happen in children,
the elderly, and people with a weakened immune
system (from HIV/AIDS,
Several thousand cases of encephalitis are reported to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) every year. But health experts think that many more cases
happen that aren't reported because symptoms vary and can be mild.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Encephalitis?
Symptoms in mild cases of encephalitis usually include:
blood tests to
look for bacteria or viruses in the blood. These also can show if the body is making
antibodies (specific proteins that fight infection) in response to a germ
lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, which checks cerebrospinal
fluid (the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord) for signs of infection
How Is Encephalitis Treated?
Most kids with encephalitis need care in a hospital, usually in an intensive care
unit (ICU). Doctors will watch their blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and body
fluids to prevent further swelling of the brain.
Antiviral drugs can treat some forms of encephalitis, such as the type caused
by the herpes simplex virus.
Corticosteroids may be used to reduce brain swelling.
Anticonvulsants might be given to a child having seizures.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, like acetaminophen,
can help with fever and headaches.
Antibiotics don't work against viruses, so aren't used to treat most forms of
Many people with encephalitis make a full recovery. In some cases, brain swelling
can cause lasting problem like learning disabilities, speech problems, memory loss,
or lack of muscle control. Speech
therapy, or occupational
therapy can help in these cases.
How Long Does Encephalitis Last?
Most of the time, the
phase of the illness (when symptoms are the most severe) lasts up to a
week. Full recovery can take longer, often several weeks or months.
Can Encephalitis Be Prevented?
Encephalitis can't be prevented, but you can avoid the illnesses that may lead
to it. Immunizations protect
kids from many common childhood illnesses. So follow the immunization
schedule recommended by your doctor. Kids should also avoid contact with anyone
who already has encephalitis.
It's also important for everyone in your family to wash
their hands well and often.
To avoid mosquito bites, kids should:
Avoid being outside at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
Wear protective clothing outside, like long sleeves and long pants.
Use insect repellent.
Drain standing water from around your home, including in buckets, birdbaths, flowerpots,
and tire swings. These are breeding grounds for mosquitoes.