Encephalitis: Viral Infection of the Brain
Many viruses can cause encephalitis. The West Nile virus, has been responsible for high-profile outbreaks in the U.S. Most people exposed to encephalitis-causing viruses have no symptoms. Others may experience a mild flu-like illness, but do not develop full-blown encephalitis.
Brain inflammation itself is not contagious, but any of the various viruses that cause encephalitis can be.
Encephalitis can occur at any age; increased age-associated risks depend on the type of encephalitis virus.
With the exception of herpes simplex and varicella-zoster encephalitis, the viral forms of encephalitis are not treatable. The primary objective is to diagnose the patient as soon as possible so they receive the right medicines to treat the symptoms. It is very important to lower fever and ease the pressure caused by swelling of the brain.
Patients with very severe encephalitis are at risk for body-wide (systemic) complications including shock, low oxygen, low blood pressure, and low sodium levels. Any potentially life-threatening complication should be addressed immediately with the appropriate treatments.
Treating Probable Causes of Encephalitis
Since it is difficult to determine the cause of encephalitis and rapid treatment is essential, it is common to give the patient medication for the symptoms that respond to therapy without waiting to determine the cause of the illness. All encephalitis treatments are aimed at reducing symptoms.
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