What is Herpes Encephalitis?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Herpes encephalitis is a condition marked by inflammation of the brain tissues. There are different types of encephalitis, which are typically caused by viral infections. Herpes encephalitis is most often caused by a virus called herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1). This virus is normally rather benign and causes such relatively minor issues as fever blisters. In some cases, however, the virus moves to a person’s brain tissue and causes it to become inflamed.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes encephalitis virus.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes encephalitis virus.

Very few people get herpes encephalitis each year. This is in sharp contrast to the numbers of people who get minor conditions caused by the virus. Conditions such as cold sores are caused by this virus and are very common; people get them or variations of them on their lips and tongues. Some people even get blisters caused by this virus on their eyelids or inside their noses. For most people, these conditions are no cause for alarm, and they typically go away without treatment. Only in rare cases does the virus make its way up to a person’s brain.

When herpes encephalitis makes its way to the brain, it often causes fever, stick neck, nausea, and vomiting.
When herpes encephalitis makes its way to the brain, it often causes fever, stick neck, nausea, and vomiting.

When a herpes virus does make its way to a person’s brain, the consequences can be very serious. For example, rare cases of herpes encephalitis may occur when the herpes virus travels from inside a person’s nose into his brain. The symptoms that follow can include a fever, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting; often, those with this condition also develop a sore throat and headache. Over time, symptoms of the condition may worsen, and a person may begin to hallucinate, have convulsions, or suffer paralysis. An individual with this condition may eventually fall into a coma or even die.

Herpes encephalitis can often cause headaches.
Herpes encephalitis can often cause headaches.

In some cases, herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2) is behind the development of herpes encephalitis. This form of the virus is typically the cause of herpes encephalitis that affects newborn babies. In this case, the newborn normally contracts the herpes virus from its mother. Babies are usually infected while they are in the birth canal. Adults, on the other hand, are usually infected with the HSV-1 form of the virus.

A fever, sore throat, headache, and other symptoms are possible if herpes encephalitis makes it way to a person's brain.
A fever, sore throat, headache, and other symptoms are possible if herpes encephalitis makes it way to a person's brain.

Because of the serious consequences of herpes encephalitis, hospitalization may be required to treat the patient and monitor him during the critical stages of the disease. Interestingly, doctors are not able to treat most forms of viral encephalitis, and treatment may be focused on the management of symptoms. Herpes encephalitis, on the other hand, may be treated with antiviral drugs.

Someone with herpes encephalitis may experience hallucinations.
Someone with herpes encephalitis may experience hallucinations.
Herpes encephalitis is marked by inflammation of the brain tissues.
Herpes encephalitis is marked by inflammation of the brain tissues.
When the herpes virus travels to a person's brain, she or he may experience stiff neck.
When the herpes virus travels to a person's brain, she or he may experience stiff neck.
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments

laughlion56

Encephalitis symptoms aren't all that different from the flu, at least at first. People report feeling feverish, stiff and achy. But in more serious cases people suffer from altered states of consciousness, confusion, coma, seizures and worse.

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