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Venkatesh Aiyagari, M.D. Answers Questions On Encephalitis

Venkatesh Aiyagari, M.D. Answers Questions On: Encephalitis

What symptoms of encephalitis should lead someone to see a doctor?

Encephalitis is a general term that means inflammation (swelling) of the brain, and it can be caused by several things – most commonly infections.

As with any illness, if a person’s mental status is being affected – if someone is so sleepy that they can’t be aroused, for instance, or their speech doesn’t make sense or they seem confused – he or she should seek prompt medical attention.

Encephalitis is a very serious illness and approximately one of every six cases needs to be put on a ventilator and one of every twenty cases dies from the illness.

How common is it for you to see encephalitis in the ICU?

Encephalitis is a rare disease. However, it is important to point out that autoimmune encephalitis is a relatively recently discovery and many patients who would have been previously undiagnosed are now being diagnosed as having autoimmune encephalitis.

How is encephalitis treated?

The way we treat encephalitis depends on its cause. Herpes encephalitis, for example, is an infection that is treated with a specific antiviral agent.

Encephalitis caused by an autoimmune phenomenon must be treated with therapies that manipulate the immune system. These therapies include high dose steroids and other drugs that suppress the immune system, gamma globulins and plasmapheresis (“plasma exchange”), a procedure in which we remove the problematic antibodies from the patient’s plasma.

For some types of encephalitis, there’s not really a specific treatment, but patients need skilled supportive care and management of related complications – such as seizures – while their bodies heal themselves. West Nile encephalitis is an example of this.