Viral encephalitis refers to inflammation of the brain that is caused by a viral infection. This write-up provides information on the causes, symptoms and treatment of this medical condition.
The term ‘encephalitis’ refers to a medical condition that is characterized by the inflammation of the brain. This condition could be caused due to exposure to disease-causing agents such as parasites, bacteria, fungi, or viruses. More often than not, a viral infection is the contributing factor. Once the virus enters the blood and travels to the brain, it starts multiplying. The immune system reacts to the viral attack, thereby giving rise to a variety of distressing symptoms. Viral encephalitis could even lead to permanent brain damage, in the absence of timely treatment.
This condition is categorized into primary and secondary. In case of the former, the virus enters the brain and the spinal cord directly, whereas one is diagnosed with the latter when the disease-causing agent infects other parts of the body, before migrating to the brain and the spinal cord. Various types of viruses could be responsible for causing the inflammation of the brain. These include:
❑ Viruses known for causing childhood infections such as measles, German measles, or mumps
❑ Arboviruses or viruses transmitted through arthropod vectors
❑ Enteroviruses or viruses that enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract such as coxsackie-virus, echo-virus, polio-virus
❑ Herpes simplex virus, Varicella zoster virus and Epstein-Barr virus
Sometimes, animals and birds might act as the carriers of the virus. Some of the causal viruses are air-borne, and one might get infected by inhaling them. This might occur, if one happens to be around an infected person when he/she sneezes or coughs. Contact with infected birds or animals could also be a contributing factor.
Since inflammation and swelling in the brain can affect brain function, various body functions can get adversely affected. This could give rise to the following symptoms:
❑ Low energy levels
❑ Stiffness in the neck
❑ Stiff back
❑ Increased sensitivity to light
❑ Muscle weakness
❑ Memory loss
❑ Speech and hearing problems
Complications could occur in the event of low blood pressure levels, low oxygen levels, or bleeding in the brain. In severe cases, one might even become comatose or die.
This condition can be diagnosed with the help of a physical examination along with blood tests, brain imaging, spinal tap test, biopsy, and an EEG scan. If diagnosed early, a combination of rest, drug therapy, and proper diet will help in the successful treatment of this viral infection. Doctors usually follow a symptomatic approach for the treatment. For instance, acyclovir is recommended, if the infection is caused by herpes simplex virus, whereas corticosteroids are prescribed if it is caused by Epstein-Barr virus. If the affected individual is having seizures, anticonvulsant drugs will be prescribed. Along with tried-and-tested antiviral medications, sedatives and steroids will be given to suppress the swelling and inflammation in the brain. Since people with a compromised immune system are at a greater risk of such infections, the immune system must be strengthened for preventing this infection in future.
Since encephalitis can cause permanent brain damage and even give rise to life-threatening situations, medical help must be immediately sought by anyone who has been experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.