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Encephalitis

The encephalitis is known as inflammation of the brain, usually because of a viral infection . The initial symptoms are very similar to those of the flu , which is why sometimes the medical diagnosis is wrong. As the disease progresses, the signs are more intense, such as seizures or motor problems. Although not the most common, encephalitis can sometimes be life-threatening.

What is it?

Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain caused by viral infections. It is a disease that is generally very difficult to determine because the symptoms are very similar to those of the flu or a common cold . However, in certain cases, the signs are serious, generally showing severe brain damage. Although the mortality rate of encephalitis is not very high, it is relatively common for neurological sequelae to appear in the medium and long term once the disease has overcome.

Types

There are two main types of encephalitis, each with its own characteristics and symptoms.

  • Primary: it is characterized by the fact that a certain virus or other infectious agent directly attacks the brain. The infection can be localized only in one area, or, conversely, spread throughout the organ.
  • Secondary: as its name suggests, it is a disorder caused by a faulty reaction of the immune system to an infection located in another part of the body. Thus, the immune system, instead of attacking only the cells responsible for the infection, also attacks the healthy cells of the brain. In the vast majority of cases, it occurs between two and three weeks after the initial infection.

Causes of encephalitis

There is a large selection of viruses that can lead to encephalitis.

Herpes

Herpes is one of the viruses that most often causes encephalitis. It can be the simple virus type 1, which causes cold sores around the mouth; it is not very common, although patients who suffer from it are at serious risk of death. It can also be the herpes simplex virus type 2, which causes genital herpes in both men and women.

Enterovirus

Enterovirus is a family of common microorganisms that belong to two large groups. On the one hand, polio viruses ; and, on the other hand, several serotypes that occur especially in autumn and that usually give rise to different infections of the respiratory or gastrointestinal system of a mild nature.

Insect-borne viruses

Encephalitis can also be caused by different viruses transmitted by insects, such as mosquitoes and ticks. In the case of mosquitoes, the most common disorder is West Nile encephalitis ; It can cause a life-threatening disease that affects the nervous system with few symptoms. As for ticks, the most common encephalitis disease is Powassan virus; Infections with this virus are not very common, but they can be serious and lead to many complications.

Rabies virus

Infection with the rabies virus is transmitted in the vast majority of cases by the bite of an infected animal . Once symptoms start, the progression is very rapid towards encephalitis.

Childhood infections

This disease can also occur in those people who have suffered childhood infections, such as:

  • Measles – a highly contagious respiratory infection that results in a skin rash that affects the entire body; the most common symptoms are fever , cough, and runny nose.
  • Rubella – a viral infection characterized by a red skin rash; It is similar to measles, although rubella is not as infectious or serious.

Risk factor’s

It is important to note that anyone can suffer from encephalitis. However, there are a number of risks that increase the chances of suffering from this disease.

  • Age: certain types of encephalitis are more common in people of certain ages. For example, swelling of the brain from measles is vastly more common in children than in adults.
  • Weak immune system: Those who have weakened immune systems due to diseases such as HIV are at higher risk of encephalitis.
  • Geographic regions: Viruses transmitted by insects, such as mosquitoes or ticks, are more common in certain areas of the world.
  • Seasons of the year: directly linked to the previous point, diseases transmitted by insects are more common in summer.

Symptoms of encephalitis

The first symptoms of encephalitis are very similar to those of a flu or a common cold: headache, fever, muscle and joint pain, and tiredness . As the disease progresses without establishing the proper treatment, the signs worsen: confusion, seizures, loss of sensation and paralysis in certain areas of the body, muscle weakness, problems with speech, loss of consciousness …

In general, this disease is easier to diagnose in infants and children since a bulge appears in the fontanelle , in the soft spots, of their skull. In addition, they present clear signs of encephalitis, such as body stiffness or excessive irritability.

It is important at the slightest suspicion of this disease to seek immediate medical assistance. If encephalitis is treated in its early stages, the chances of survival without any health complications are very high.

Diagnosis

Early diagnosis of encephalitis is extremely important to establish the most appropriate treatment for each patient, thus avoiding serious brain damage. The doctor first of all takes the patient’s medical history, taking into account the symptoms that he presents, as well as his age and previous state of health; You can also ask if the patient has recently made a trip to an area at risk for tick and mosquito bites.

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If there is suspicion of encephalitis, proceed to perform a series of medical tests to confirm or not the diagnosis. The most important of all is the lumbar puncture to obtain cerebrospinal fluid, which is analyzed in the laboratory. The most frequently performed test is known as PCR, which detects the presence of the virus that has caused the encephalitis.

The doctor may also consider performing an imaging test of the central nervous system, such as an MRI . In the same way, the encephalogram is another widely used test for the diagnosis of encephalitis since it allows to determine if there is any type of damage in the brain’s electrical activity, in addition to estimating the probabilities that exist that the patient suffers from epilepsy permanently.

Treatment of encephalitis

Once the diagnosis of the disease has been established, it is important to start treating it as soon as possible, which consists of a total of three phases.

Control symptoms

First, the doctor establishes a series of measures in order to control the symptoms of the disease : drink plenty of fluids and rest to improve general discomfort, take analgesics and anti-inflammatories to lower fever and take corticosteroids to reduce inflammation of the brain. .

Remove the virus

Once the symptoms are controlled and the patient is in a stable state, the virus is eliminated from the nervous system. It is interesting to know that not all viruses have a specific treatment. Moreover, only those of the herpes family can be attacked directly with the administration of antiviral drugs.

Prevent sequelae

The third and final phase of encephalitis treatment consists of preventing sequelae, so that the patient can regain their quality and rhythm of life. Thus, depending on the residual damage that has remained in the brain, different therapies can be followed . For example, if the patient has difficulty in speaking, language therapy is extremely effective since it allows to regain speech, as well as understanding. Other types of therapies, such as physical or occupational, are also widely used with the clear objective of preventing the sequelae of this disorder.

How to prevent encephalitis

There is no method to prevent encephalitis that is 100% foolproof. However, there are a series of tips that are interesting to know to reduce as much as possible the exposure to the viruses responsible for this disorder.

Hygiene

Of course, maintaining good hygiene habits is essential, both in adults and children. Thus, it is important to wash your hands frequently using soap and water , especially before and after meals. Similarly, it is not advisable to share plates, cutlery or drinks.

Vaccines

It is very important to keep the vaccinations of the little ones up to date. And there are certain childhood viruses such as measles that can be avoided in a simple way with the administration of the corresponding vaccine.

Mosquitoes and ticks

As we have pointed out, one of the probable causes of encephalitis is the bite of insects such as mosquitoes and ticks. Well, to avoid them as much as possible there are a series of tips that should be remembered.

  • Clothing: when it comes to being outdoors, especially at night and in wooded areas, it is best to wear clothing that protects the skin from these types of insects, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Repellent: there are certain chemicals such as DEET that are applied to both skin and clothing and provide excellent protection against mosquitoes.
  • Water sources: a fundamental advice is to eliminate stagnant water that may be in any point of the house, such as the patio or terrace since that is where mosquitoes usually lay their eggs; elements such as flat roofs, clogged gutters, flowerpots …
  • Mosquito nets: the installation of mosquito nets on the windows of the house is also a great option to value, especially in the summer season. It is the best way to prevent these insects from entering the home.

Complications of encephalitis

Encephalitis is a mild disease for which it is essential to establish the proper diagnosis and treatment during the early stages of it. If the disorder progresses, the inflammation can damage the brain and lead to permanent sequelae, and even death.

The complications of encephalitis vary markedly depending on a series of factors: age, cause of infection, severity of the disease, and period of time that has elapsed from the appearance of the first symptoms to the start of treatment .

Those patients with a relatively mild disease recover in a few weeks without any complications in the medium or long term . Other more serious complications can include: permanent lack of muscle coordination, memory problems, difficulty in concentration and attention, paralysis, defects in speech , as well as in vision and hearing.

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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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