Answers to your questions on Encephalitis

What is Encephalitis?

Encephalitis simply means an inflammation of the brain tissue. It is not common but it is serious and life-threatening. Anyone who has this condition should get immediate treatment at a hospital.

Who is affected?

It is a rare disease and it is said to affect approximately 1 person in every 200,000 persons. However, experts suspect that not all cases of encephalitis are reported/documented.

What causes encephalitis?

The inflammation of the brain tissue seen is commonly caused by viral pathogens, autoimmunity, etc.

  • The commonest cause is viral infections. Some of the viruses that can cause it are the herpes simplex virus, chicken pox virus, HIV, mumps, cytomegalovirus, , measles virus, rubella virus and Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Bacterial infections and fungal infections can also cause this disease.
  • Another cause is when the immune system is faulty – so that it mistakenly attacks the brain making it to swell; this is called autoimmunity.
  • There are some types of encephalitis that can be spread by: ticks (tick-borne encephalitis, etc), mosquitoes (Japanese encephalitis, etc) and mammals (rabies).

Can this disease be spread from person to person?

The disease itself cannot be spread from person to person – it is not infectious. But the organisms (viruses, fungi, bacteria) are contagious.

Who is at risk?

Those who are most commonly affected are the elderly, children, and people whose immune systems have been weakened (example: those who have cancer, HIV/AIDS).

There are 2 main types of encephalitis:

  1. Primary encephalitis – this is when the virus goes and infects the brain directly.
  2. Secondary – this is when an infection of another part of the body travels to the brain.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms can be mild or severe.

Mild symptoms include: Fever, stiff neck, headache, lethargy, tiredness/weakness, vomiting, loss of appetite, a general sick feeling, muscle and joint aches.

Severe symptoms: Muscle weakness, confusion, hallucinations, drowsiness, unconsciousness, memory loss, very high fever, problems with hearing or speech, seizures, slower movements and paralysis or loss of sensation in some parts of the face or body.

In children, you may see symptoms like: constant crying, poor appetite, poor feeding, bulging of the soft spots of the skull (fontanelles), body stiffness, irritability and vomiting.

to be continued

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