Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain that is almost always caused by a virus. In the United States, it is most commonly caused by herpes simplex, the virus that also causes cold sores. Chicken pox, mumps or measles viruses can also bring on the illness. Another form of the encephalitis is spread by mosquitoes and ticks.
Severe encephalitis, which is rare, can lead to brain damage or death. People with mild cases usually recover in two to three weeks.
Encephalitis symptoms are virtually the same for adults and children, and include fever, other flu-like symptoms combined with:
- Eyes that are sensitive to light
- Mental confusion, drowsiness, lethargy or irritability
- Delirium, seizures, coma or even paralysis
- Stiff neck, shoulders or back; a shooting pain in the neck and back when the head is bent forward
- In infants, a bulging of the soft spot of the skull
What You Can Do to Help Prevent Encephalitis
- Get early treatment for any serious infection or high fever.
- Avoid ticks by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts in grassy or wooded areas.
- Prevent insect bites by applying repellent.
If you or your child shows the above symptoms, call your doctor for emergency advice. If a doctor is not available when you call, don’t wait. Go to an emergency facility.