Viral Encephalitis Treatment

  • Treatment

    Encephalitis requires immediate emergency care so that diagnosis and treatment can begin as soon as possible.

    Your chance of survival increases if you are given early drug and/or supportive treatment. If your doctor suspects that you have herpes encephalitis, but has yet to confirm those suspicions, you may nevertheless be started on antiviral medicines while diagnostic tests are being done.

    Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.

    If you will be traveling to an area where encephalitis is more common, consult your clinician to discuss specific precautions.

    You may be advised to get a vaccination for Japanese encephalitis if you are traveling to Asia in the summer. However, this vaccination carries a small risk of allergic reaction. Immunizations against tick-borne encephalitis (common in rural areas in Europe and Russia) are available, but can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, a serious neurological disorder. Ask your clinician about the risks versus the benefits of these and any other vaccinations you may need before travelling outside of the U.S.

    Because people who develop serious illness with encephalitis are immobile (confined to bedrest), they have an increased risk of pneumonia, bedsores, blood clots, and infections from catheters.

    Having encephalitis can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to other infections such as pneumonia. Your clinician will take preventive measures, and monitor you for signs of other (secondary) infections.

    Acute episodes of viral encephalitis last about one to three weeks, with fever and symptoms that gradually or suddenly subside. However, it may take months for you to fully recover. The ease of your recovery, as well as whether or not you sustain permanent damage, depends on the type of virus you have, and how soon you obtain medical treatment.

    While less than 1% of patients with California encephalitis die, 50% to 75% of eastern equine encephalitis cases are fatal. Close to 80% of those with eastern equine encephalitis who survive have permanent impairments. Three percent to 15% of patients who become ill with West Nile virus die. Most of these deaths occur in patients age 50 or older.

    With the exceptions of West Nile and St. Louis infections, encephalitis responds more rapidly to treatment in adults than in children. Children take longer to recover, and infants are at higher risk to develop permanent impairments. As with many illnesses, the elderly are also at greater risk of serious consequences related to an encephalitis infection.

    Herpes simplex encephalitis can cause death or serious permanent brain damage.

    If left untreated, 70% of patients with herpes simplex encephalitis will die. About three-quarters of the patients receiving antiviral medication for the disease survive, and half of those sustain permanent brain damage. Early treatment improves these odds.

    While encephalitis is an acute disease, you may need long-term medical and rehabilitational care if you experience lasting problems.

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