Encephalitis is swelling and irritation (inflammation) of the brain. Encephalitis can damage the brain and cause problems with walking, talking, and remembering. It is rare but can be life threatening. Anyone can get encephalitis, but it happens more in babies, elderly people, and people who have a weakened immune system or who have a long-term disease such as diabetes or HIV. The immune system is your body’s defense against infection.
Encephalitis is usually caused by a virus. Bacteria, fungus, and parasites can also cause encephalitis. These germs are everywhere and can spread easily among people:
The infection can then get to your brain by moving from another part of your body through the blood. The source may be an infection in your sinuses, ears, mouth, lungs, heart, or other places. Germs in the brain cause the tissue to swell and bleed causing infection and brain damage.
Severe allergic reactions, cancer, or an autoimmune disease can also cause encephalitis. An autoimmune disease is a disease that causes your body to mistakenly attack your own tissue.
Your child’s symptoms may depend on what part of his brain is affected. At first, your child may have flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, and muscle aches. Over several hours or days, the symptoms may get worse. More severe symptoms may include:
If your child has these symptoms, call 911 for emergency help right away.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Tests may include:
Encephalitis is treated in the hospital. Your child may be in the intensive care unit. If your child needs help breathing, he may need a breathing machine. These life-support treatments are used until your child starts to get better. Your child may need IV fluids and medicines to:
Your child may start a rehabilitation (rehab) program to help with problems caused by the illness. This may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy.
Follow the treatment plan your child’s healthcare provider recommends.
Ask your provider:
Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
The best way to prevent encephalitis is to prevent infections. You can do these things to help prevent infections: