World Encephalitis Day (February 22) is celebrated to spread awareness about the condition. Encephalitis is a serious neurological condition that affects the brain and can cause inflammation, swelling, and damage. In India, encephalitis is a significant public health concern, with outbreaks occurring annually in several states, especially in the northern and eastern parts of the country. The most common cause of encephalitis in India is the Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV), although other viruses, such as the Nipah virus, have also been reported.
The symptoms of encephalitis can range from mild to severe and can vary depending on the age of the patient, the cause of the infection, and the severity of the inflammation. Common symptoms include fever, headache, confusion, seizures, muscle weakness or paralysis, sensitivity to light and sound, and loss of consciousness.
Encephalitis is challenging to diagnose because its symptoms can be similar to other neurological conditions. However, an experienced neurologist can detect the condition with a detailed medical history, physical examination and specific evaluations such as blood tests, CT or MRI scans or a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to analyze the cerebrospinal fluid.
The treatment for encephalitis depends on the cause of the infection. If the infection is viral, antiviral medications may be prescribed. If the infection is bacterial or fungal, antibiotics or antifungal medications may be prescribed. In severe cases, hospitalization and supportive care may be necessary, including intravenous fluids and medications to control seizures or reduce fever. A study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Microbiology in 2017 found that intravenous acyclovir, an antiviral medication, was effective in treating herpes simplex virus encephalitis in children.
Care for encephalitis patients
Care for patients with encephalitis is crucial to ensure the best possible outcomes. This includes frequent monitoring of vital signs and neurological function, as well as providing supportive care, such as hydration and nutrition. In severe cases, patients may require mechanical ventilation or other advanced life support measures. Multidisciplinary care, including neurology, infectious diseases, and critical care specialists is necessary to improve the outcomes in children with encephalitis.
In India, several measures can be taken to reduce the risk of infection, including vaccinations, mosquito control, and good hygiene practices. Vaccination is key to prevent the infection in India. A study published in The Lancet in 2019 found that a single-dose vaccine for Japanese encephalitis was highly effective in preventing the disease in children aged nine months to two years.
Lifestyle changes for encephalitis patients:
Rest: Get plenty of sleep, take breaks when you need to, and avoiding overexertion.
Follow a healthy diet: A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for your recovery from encephalitis.
Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water is important for maintaining hydration and flushing toxins out of your body. This can also help reduce symptoms like headaches and fatigue.
Follow your doctor’s instructions: Your doctor will likely provide specific instructions for managing your encephalitis, including any medications you may need to take and any activities you should avoid. It’s important to follow these instructions carefully and to ask questions if you’re unsure about anything.
(Dr Pradyumna J. Oak, Director & Head — Neurology, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital)
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