Encephalitis: causes, symptoms, treatment and prognosis

When we want to talk about inflammation of brain tissue, we are talking about encephalitis. As with any other organ, this infection can have several origins. However, it is the deadliest of infections.

What is encephalitis?

Suffering from inflammation of the central nervous system can have serious consequences that leave permanent damage. For this reason, it is important to be very clear about your symptoms and what to do if you suspect encephalitis.

Without going into too much detail and medical technicalities, let’s take a look at how encephalitis manifests itself., What are the most probable origins, and what treatment and prognosis can be expected from the patient who suffers from it.


It is important to differentiate encephalitis from meningitis. The first is inflammation of the brain tissue or the spinal cord. The second refers to the inflammation of the meninges, the layers of tissue that separate the brain from the skull.

Encephalitis produces a clinical picture with symptoms covering a very wide range of severity. The most common mild symptoms are those listed below.

1. Fever

As with any infection, the body defends itself against viral agents with fever. Raising the temperature helps kill the bacteria or viruses that are causing the infection.

2. Headache

When we suffer from an infection, it is usual for the vessels to dilate so that more blood reaches the infected area and to be able to fight external agents better. What happens with this is that the area swells and compresses the fabric against the walls. That is why, in encephalitis, patients suffer from headaches.

3. Rigid collar

Muscle pain is very common in all kinds of infectious processes, and encephalitis is no exception. In addition to the pain, it is common for patients to have very stiff neck and upper back muscles.

4. Fatigue

Due to the infection, it is common for the patient to feel exhausted. Ultimately, the body needs all the energy it can to fight infection, and rest is beneficial for healing.

Since these symptoms are very general and common in infections, it will only be after the onset of more severe and specific symptoms that encephalitis will be suspected. In principle, more neurological symptoms reflect greater severity of the infection and greater urgency in its treatment. Neurological symptoms include:

  • high fever
  • confusion
  • dizzy
  • hallucinations
  • motor slowness
  • irritability
  • seizures
  • Coma

Of course, in the presence of one of these manifestations, the guideline for action is to get to a medical emergency. Neurological symptoms indicate serious damage to the nervous system and can be potentially disabling or even fatal.

The diagnosis will be made by lumbar puncture, Who will analyze the contents of the cerebrospinal fluid to confirm the presence of signs of infection, by neuroimaging such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT). Other methods include electroencephalograms, blood tests, or even a brain biopsy, where a small sample of brain tissue is taken to examine its contents.

common causes

Our bodies are built in a surprisingly intelligent way. Especially when it comes to the nervous system, there are more obstacles and safety measures than one might suspect. There is a reason why most infectious processes do not spread to the brain. In order to prevent toxic substances in the blood from coming into contact with cerebrospinal fluid in the brain and spinal cord, the body builds a barrier between the two.

however, when certain harmful agents carried in the blood manage to penetrate the barrier, a problem arises: The body’s natural defenses cannot do this either and the infection becomes difficult to treat. This is why many treatments are administered directly to the cerebrospinal fluid because they cannot pass through the body’s own defenses.

Common viral infections

Although encephalitis can be caused by both viruses and bacteria, a viral infection is the most common.. The virus most commonly associated with encephalitis in developed countries is herpes virus. Although this virus normally travels only from the nerve to the skin, it sometimes reaches the brain, dangerously affecting the nervous system. Other common viruses include cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

There is a percentage of children who, in order not to be vaccinated when they should, suffer from encephalitis due to a viral infection against which they must be protected. These viruses include chickenpox and rubella. This is why, among other things, it is essential to respect the vaccine portfolio and protect the little ones from this type of infection.


In addition to common viruses, those transmitted by insect bites are another common cause of encephalitis. Mosquito bites and ticks are the most common transmitted by these viruses, In the urban world and in particular when traveling in tropical areas where insects proliferate. Therefore, as a preventive measure, it will be necessary to vaccinate against these viruses.

Treatment and prognosis

Viruses that cause encephalitis are treated with antiviral drugs, Usually from the entrance to the emergency room so as not to waste time. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment will continue, unless a bacterial infection is detected, in which case it will switch to antibiotics. In addition, intravenous, anticonvulsant, antipyretic and oxygen fluids will be administered through a mask.

The prognosis depends on the extent of the brain damage. The longer the infection and the more severe it is, the greater the damage and the less functions will be recovered over time. If the patient has not been severely affected, disturbances in memory, executive functions, swallowing, disturbances in mood, difficulty concentrating and all kinds of neurological symptoms caused by the destruction of the remaining neurons can. be found until after infection. Like patients with dementia, it is possible to regain certain functions through cognitive rehabilitation and training.

Leave a Comment