Why is Encephalitis so Dangerous?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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Encephalitis results in swelling of the brain, which can be quite dangerous. Many viral and bacterial illnesses can result in this swelling, but one of the most recognizable conditions associated with it is the West Nile Virus, which is transmitted through mosquito bites. Any time this condition occurs it is dangerous because it impacts the brain, the organ that controls all other organs and helps people to think and reason.

It is difficult to treat encephalitis, even when the cause is bacterial. Once the brain begins to swell, it can lead to fairly immediate symptoms, such as memory loss, confusion, loss of certain body functions, and damage to brain tissue. Some swelling can cause irreversible damage to the brain before the causal factor for the problem can be treated.

An infected brain may be caused by meningitis, or can cause meningitis, since the fluid in the spine derives from the fluid in the head. Encephalitis can also impair breathing and cause either temporary or permanent lung damage. The heart may also be affected, particularly when brain swelling is due to bacteria. Often, strep bacteria can cause tissues to grow in the valves of the heart, which is called endocarditis. This complication can damage the valves and necessitate surgery to clean out or sometimes replace valves as needed.


Since early symptoms, like minor fever or attitude change, may be ignored, this condition can lead to brain impairment. The speech/language centers or behavior centers of the brain may become permanently affected, very much like the effects one might witness from a stroke. This may mean months of speech therapy to help a patient recover from the damage caused by encephalitis.

Even when treated, encephalitis may result in death. The brain's function may be so impaired by swelling that the organ simply shuts down all systems of the body. Painful seizures caused by the swelling can also make the condition worse, hastening a person’s demise.

In general, this condition tends to be worse in those who are very young or very old. Most people who have cases with viral or bacterial causes will recover without brain damage. Children under the age of five and the elderly seem particularly vulnerable to complications, however.

Treatment includes antibiotics when the condition is bacterial, steroids to reduce swelling, anti-seizure medications, and antiviral medications if the cause is viral. In rare cases, surgery must be performed to rid the brain of the accumulated fluid that is severely affecting how the brain functions. Surgery of this type is dangerous to perform, particularly on someone weakened by illness.


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Post 1

Encephalitis symptoms are close to that of the flu. You might have a headache, joints that ache, a fever and feel weak. Other more serious symptoms include confusion, altered conscious, seizures, hallucinations, double vision and more. If you have any of the more serious symptoms you should see a doctor right away.

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