General Practice 2022

Viral encephalitis: what é, symptoms, treatment and sequelae

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Viral encephalitis: what é, symptoms, treatment and sequelae
Viral encephalitis: what é, symptoms, treatment and sequelae

Viral encephalitis is an infection of the central nervous system that causes inflammation of the brain and affects mainly infants and children, but can also occur in adults with a weakened immune system.

This type of infection can be a complication of infection with relatively common viruses such as herpes simplex, adenovirus or cytomegalovirus, which develop in excess, due to a weakened immune system, and which can affect the brain, causing symptoms such as severe headache, fever and convulsions.

Viral encephalitis is curable, but treatment must be started quickly to avoid the appearance of sequelae due to damage caused by inflammation in the brain.Therefore, in case of suspicion or worsening of existing infections, it is always advisable to go to the hospital to assess the situation.

Main symptoms

The first symptoms of viral encephalitis are consequences of a viral infection, such as a cold or gastroenteritis, such as headache, fever and vomiting, which over time evolves and causes brain lesions that lead to the appearance of more severe symptoms such as:

  • Fainting;
  • Confusion and agitation;
  • Seizures;
  • Paralysis or muscle weakness;
  • Memory loss;
  • Neck and back stiffness;
  • Extreme sensitivity to light.

Viral encephalitis symptoms are not always specific to the infection, being confused with other diseases such as meningitis or colds.The diagnosis of infection is made through blood and cerebrospinal fluid tests, electroencephalogram (EEG), magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography, or brain biopsy.

Is viral encephalitis contagious?

Viral encephalitis itself is not contagious, however, as it is a complication of a virus infection, it is possible that the virus that is at its origin can be transmitted through contact with respiratory secretions, such as coughing or sneezing, from an infected person or through the use of contaminated utensils, such as forks, knives or cups, for example.

In this case, it is common for the person who catches the virus to develop the disease and not the complication, which is viral encephalitis.

How the treatment is done

The main goal of treatment is to help the body fight the infection and relieve symptoms. Therefore, rest, food and fluid intake are essential to cure the disease.

In addition, the doctor may also prescribe medication to relieve symptoms such as:

  • Paracetamol or Dipyrone: reduces fever and relieves headache;
  • Anticonvulsants, such as Carbamazepine or Phenytoin: prevent seizures;
  • Corticoids, such as Dexamethasone: fight brain inflammation by relieving symptoms.

In the case of herpes virus or cytomegalovirus infections, the doctor may also prescribe antivirals, such as Acyclovir or Foscarnet, to eliminate the viruses faster, as these infections can cause serious brain damage.

In the most serious cases, in which there is loss of consciousness or the person cannot breathe alone, it may be necessary to stay in the hospital for treatment with drugs directly in the vein and to have respiratory support, for example.

Possible sequels

The most frequent sequelae of viral encephalitis are:

  • Muscular paralysis;
  • Memory and learning problems;
  • Speaking and hearing difficulties;
  • Visual changes;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Involuntary muscle movements.

These sequelae usually only appear when the infection lasts for a long time and the treatment has not had the expected results.

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