Causes of encephalitis

Encephalitis is an infection of the brain.

It can be caused by several organisms, especially viruses.

The virus that most commonly causes encephalitis is herpes simplex, which also causes cold sores. Other viral causes include the chickenpox, measles and glandular fever viruses.

Encephalitis symptoms

Encephalitis usually comes on very suddenly.

A child with encephalitis develops a fever,  becomes lethargic, is generally unwell and might be vomiting. An older child might complain of a severe headache.

Without treatment, the illness can progress, causing confusion, convulsions and muscle weakness or paralysis. It might eventually lead to coma.

When to see your doctor about encephalitis symptoms

You should take your child to see a doctor if your child has:

  • an unexplained fever and is generally unwell
  • a viral illness such as chickenpox, measles or glandular fever and starts to complain of severe headaches, or suddenly appears to be very drowsy or confused.

Treatment for encephalitis

If your child has encephalitis, he’ll need to spend some time in hospital for tests, close monitoring and care. In hospital, he might also be given specific antiviral medications, which sometimes can help.

If the encephalitis is severe, especially in younger children, there might be longer-term complications like muscle weakness or speech problems.

Prevention of encephalitis

Make sure that your child is up to date with all her immunisations. This will help to eliminate some of the possible causes, including chickenpox and measles.