Raising Awareness: World Encephalitis Day

22 February 2021

Today, Monday 22 February, is World Encephalitis Day. This day is led by The Encephalitis Society and aims to raise global awareness of encephalitis, which is a condition that affects over 500,000 people around the world every year. 

The Encephalitis Society asks people to show support for their ‘Lights Camera Action’ campaign by lighting up a local landmark or wearing red as part of their #Red4WED campaign. 

Unfortunately, encephalitis is commonly misdiagnosed due to the overlap of symptoms with other health conditions. This can lead to a delay in treatment and a worsening of the condition and its associated symptoms. 

As medical negligence lawyers, we often see cases involving misdiagnosis or a delay in the diagnosis of encephalitis which makes us more conscious of raising awareness of the condition. So, in this blog, we explore what encephalitis is, including its causes, symptoms, treatment and recovery.

What is encephalitis? 

Encephalitis is a rare but serious condition in which the brain becomes inflamed (swollen). This can be a life-threatening condition and it can affect anyone at any age.

There are two main types of encephalitis: primary and secondary. Primary encephalitis happens when a virus or other agent infects the brain and spinal cord directly. Secondary encephalitis occurs when an infection develops elsewhere in the body and then attacks the brain. 

What causes encephalitis?

The inflammation of the brain seen in encephalitis can be caused by an infection spreading to the brain (known as infectious encephalitis) or through the immune system attacking the brain in error (post-infectious or autoimmune encephalitis). 

Infectious encephalitis is mostly commonly caused by viruses including: 

  • Herpes simplex viruses which cause cold sores and genital herpes
  • Varicella zoster virus which causes chickenpox and shingles 
  • Measles, mumps and rubella viruses
  • Viruses spread by animals, including tick-borne encephalitis, Japanese encephalitis and rabies 

Post-infectious or autoimmune encephalitis can be can be triggered by: 

  • A previous infection in another part of the body 
  • A non-cancerous or cancerous growth in the body 
  • A vaccination (this is very rare) 

In rare cases, encephalitis can also be caused by bacteria, fungi or parasites.

What are the symptoms of encephalitis? 

Infectious encephalitis usually begins with flu-like symptoms such as a high temperature or headache. More serious symptoms can develop over hours, days or weeks including confusion, disorientation, seizures or fits, changes in personality or behaviour, difficulty speaking, weakness or loss of movement and consciousness. 

Autoimmune encephalitis often has a longer onset and symptoms vary. They can include confusion, changes in personality or behaviour, psychosis, hallucinations, seizures, memory loss and sleep disturbances. 

Treatment for encephalitis 

Encephalitis needs to be treated in a hospital and the sooner treatment is commenced, the better the chances are of success.

Treatment may include antiviral medications, antibiotics or antifungal medications, painkillers, medicine to control seizures or fits and support with breathing such as oxygen through a face mask or at the extreme, on a ventilator. 

Recovering from encephalitis 

Recovering from encephalitis takes time and no two people diagnosed and treated for encephalitis will have the same outcome. Some people make a full recovery but many people do not. 

It is common for people to suffer from long-term problems caused by damage to their brain as a result of their initial encephalitis. Nerve cells (also known as neurons) may be damaged as a result of this condition and this damage is termed an acquired brain injury. 

Common long-term complications of the condition include memory loss, frequent seizures or fits, tiredness, personality and behavioural changes and cognitive difficulties.  

Encephalitis is most dangerous for the very young or very old. Undiagnosed encephalitis in babies can lead to catastrophic brain damage, blindness, loss of hearing, seizures and memory loss.

Further Information

To get involved in World Encephalitis Day and the #Red4WED campaign, please visit The Encephalitis Society

If you would like any further information or advice about the topic discussed in this blog, please contact our Medical Negligence and Personal Injury team at claims@kingsleynapley.co.uk 


About The Authors

Terrence Donovan is the Head of the Medical Negligence and Personal Injury Department.  He has a national reputation, and is one of the most respected and senior solicitors in the field.

Lara Francioni is a Paralegal in the Medical Negligence and Personal Injury team. Lara assists with aspects of medical negligence and personal injury claims, including birth injury, brain injury, fatal accidents and road traffic accident claims. 


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