Encephalitis of the brain is a serious disease where the brain is inflamed. It is usually caused by a virus. Some people believe that virus vaccines are contributing factors to some cases of encephalitis. Other causes can be fungi, parasites or bacteria. The herpes virus is a common cause of encephalitis, as are enteroviruses, viruses introduced by mosquitoes or ticks, or the rabies virus. Measles, mumps and rubella can also lead to encephalitis.
Mild cases of encephalitis may present with symptoms that resemble the flu. These include aches, pains, headache, and fatigue. A mild case might only require that the patient have bed rest, pain medications, and stay hydrated. However, the symptoms of a severe case of may be an excruciating headache, fever, vomiting, drowsiness, mental confusion, and seizures. The patient may also suffer from hallucinations, aphasia, paralysis, and double vision. The patient might smell foul odors and become unconscious. A person suffering from a severe case of encephalitis of the brain may need to be hospitalized.
Symptoms in babies and small children may be different from the symptoms experienced by adults. The child may hold him/herself stiffly and a caretaker might notice bulging areas in the skull of an infant. The baby or child might cry when being picked up or might even stop eating. Symptoms like this require that the child be seen by a doctor right away.
Encephalitis can be primary or secondary. Primary encephalitis happens when the brain is infected directly by the virus or the bacteria. Secondary encephalitis happens because the body senses an infection somewhere else in the patient’s body and attacks the brain. It usually happens a few weeks after the infection and might be the result of a vaccination for a viral disease.
Encephalitis is uncommon in the United States. People who are most at risk are children or older people, though encephalitis that’s caused by the herpes virus is more prevalent among young adults. People with a compromised immune system and who live in a place where virus bearing mosquitos or ticks are common are also at risk. Encephalitis is most often contracted during the summer and early fall.
Fortunately, patients with a mild form of the disease usually recover completely. But severe cases of encephalitis can lead to coma and death or long lasting complications like tiredness, mood swings, forgetfulness, clumsiness, and impairment of speech, vision, or hearing.