Viral encephalitis is a medical term that refers to viral inflammation of the brain. In most cases such inflammation is caused by enterovirus.
Once the virus enters the body, it spreads towards the brain where it starts to multiply. The immune system recognizes the infective agents as intruders and initiates the inflammatory reaction. So direct invasion of brain cells and the response of the immune system are blamed for all the symptoms and signs of the condition.
Viral encephalitis is a serious condition associated with many potential complications. Young children (especially infants aged one year or less) as well as people over the age of 55 are more susceptible to viral encephalitis.
Viral Encephalitis Symptoms and Signs
The infection and brain inflammation are accompanied by general malaise, high temperature, headache, and sensitivity to light. Patient's neck and back are stiff and there are noticeable changes in personality. Swelling of brain tissue may cause an increase in intracranial pressure, nausea and vomiting.
Viral encephalitis is additionally a cause of confusion, memory loss and seizures. More complex and severe cases may be characterized by paralysis and even coma.
Viruses Associated with Encephalitis
There are many viruses that cause different infections in humans. But only selected ones are capable of causing encephalitis.
For instance, enteroviruses like coxsackie virus, poliovirus or echovirus are frequently associated with viral encephalitis. Furthermore, inflammation of the brain may also develop due to infection caused by Herpes simplex virus, Varicella zoster virus, Epstein-Barr virus, Cytomegalovirus and Adenovirus. Rubella and measles are two viral infection which may progress into viral encephalitis. Finally, there are several more not so frequent types of viral encephalitis such as Murray Valley encephalitis, Kunjin encephalitis and Japanese encephalitis.
Viral Encephalitis - Complications
Complications usually occur in babies and immunocompromised individuals. These range in severity so some patients may have to deal with hypotension while others develop more complex health problems such as hypoxemia, bleeding inside the brain etc. The most severe complication of viral encephalitis is permanent brain damage and associated loss of certain brain functions. The infection can be also lethal.
Viral Encephalitis Treatment
Viral infections in general are sometimes very hard to treat. This is because there are not antiviral drugs which can efficiently eradicate all viruses or prevent their multiplication.
Treatment for viral encephalitis generally depends on patient's general health and symptoms of the condition, patient's age, the type of virus responsible for the infection and several more factors.
Complex cases of viral encephalitis require hospitalization. Antiviral drugs are only administered if encephalitis is caused by viruses sensitive to the specific antiviral drug. It is essential to keep the body well-hydrated with intravenous fluids and provide with adequate symptomatic treatment. Brain inflammation is treated with specific antiedematous treatment, seizures are controlled with anticonvulsive drugs while antipyretics reduce increased body temperature.
The outcome depends on multiple factors some of which are the response to treatment, the extent of damage to the brain ad the type of virus responsible for the infection. Acute phase of viral encephalitis generally subsides after a week or two. The symptoms reduce gradually and after some time doctors estimate whether there is a permanent damage to the brain. Fortunately, most patients suffering from viral encephalitis fully recover.