Encephalitis in Children
Encephalitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the spinal cord and brain. This type of infection causes problems with the function of the spinal cord and brain. The inflammation causes the brain to swell which may lead to changes in the neurological condition of the child including seizures and mental confusion.
Common Symptoms of Encephalitis in Children
The symptoms of Encephalitis may depend on the age of your child, the part of the brain that is inflamed which causes the inflammation, and the degree of inflammation. Every child in the same situation may show symptoms differently. Some of the most common symptoms of Encephalitis may include:
Encephalitis means that the brain tissue has become inflamed, and this can be caused by different things:
- It can be the immune system over-reacting to an infection that might not even be still present in the body.
- It can be the normal reaction of the body to a viral or bacterial infection.
- It can have an autoimmune cause and occur without an infection of any kind.
Viruses and Other Infectious Agents
There are some viruses that we know may cause Encephalitis:
Enteroviruses: These viruses enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract and can also cause hand-foot-mouth disease.
Herpes simplex virus: This is a common cause of encephalitis. Most children have been exposed to this virus, and your child may be infected with it even if they do not have a cold sore or blister around their mouth or other sign of the virus.
Measles and chickenpox viruses: Keeping your child up-to-date with their vaccinations greatly lowers the rate of encephalitis from these viruses.
Diagnosing Encephalitis in Children
Your child’s treatment begins with an accurate diagnosis. Your child’s doctor will ask about your child’s medical history, including their immunization history, and whether they have been exposed to viruses that cause encephalitis through activities or anywhere else.
Some of the procedures used to diagnose encephalitis include:
- Blood, urine, and stool tests to check for indications of infection
- Electroencephalogram to see if your child is having subtle underlying seizures
- Magnetic resonance imaging to look at detailed images that can show inflammation in the brain
- Lumbar puncture to take a small sample of spinal fluid to look for infections, like viruses and bacteria
- CT scan of the brain, to make sure that the symptoms aren’t caused by another cause
Treatment for Encephalitis in Children
Specific treatment for Encephalitis will determine by the doctor of your child based on:
- The extent of the condition
- The age of your child, medical history, and overall health
- The tolerance of your child for certain medications, therapies, and procedures
Your child will be treated for 2-3 days with IV medications to fight certain bacteria and the herpes simplex virus. Doctors may recommend medications depending on your child’s condition, such as: