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Encephalitis in Children

​​​​Encephalitis is a rare condition that causes inflammation - swelling and irritation - of the brain and can affect the function of the spinal cord. It's commonly c​aused by a virus. It is a serious condition that requires immediate medical treatment.

​Symptoms of Encephalitis​

The onset of symptoms is often very sudden:

  • Strange behavior - confusion or hallucinations
  • Drowsiness
  • Sudden changes in personality
  • Seizures
  • Trouble talking, changes in speech
  • Difficulty walking
  • Unusual body movements, weakness in arms or legs
  • Fever
  • Neck stiffness

Encephalitis is usually preceded by some sort of viral illness, such as an upper respiratory infection. It can also be caused by:

  • Herpes simplex virus
  • West Nile virus (carried by mosquitos)
  • Lyme disease (transmitted by ticks)
  • Toxoplasmosis (carried by cats)

Most encephalitis cases occur in children, the elderly or people who have weakened immune systems. ​

Diagnosing Encephalitis

Be sure to come to your appointment armed with your child's vaccine history. Prior to vaccination for childhood illnesses, encephalitis was much more common among children. If your child is missing a vaccination, this will be helpful for your doctor to know. 

Also, let your doctor know about any recent colds or infections, trips that may have resulted in a mosquito or tick bite and any pets they've been around.

Your doctor may order various tests, such as:

  • MRI
  • CT Scan
  • Urine and stool tests
  • Sputum (mucus) culture
  • An EEG (electroencephalogram)
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)​

Treating Encephalitis

Your doctor will try to reduce swelling in the brain to prevent more complications. Likely, your child will be hospitalized. Various medications will be prescribed, depending on the severity of the illness, as well as your child's age and general health.​

Prognosis for Encephalitis

Most children will have a good recovery from encephalitis. However, some do experience ongoing problems with learning, thinking, speech or body movement.​

Preventing Encephalitis

Make sure your child is up to date on their immunizations, all the way through the teen years.

Illness Pediatric Neurology