Tests that detect antibodies to a virus (serology tests)
Test that detects tiny amounts of virus DNA (polymerase chain reaction -- PCR)
The goals of treatment are to provide supportive care (rest, nutrition, fluids) to help the body fight the infection, and to relieve symptoms. Reorientation and emotional support for confused or delirious people may be helpful.
Medications may include:
Antiviral medications, such as acyclovir (Zovirax) and foscarnet (Foscavir) -- to treat herpes encephalitis or other severe viral infections (however, no specific antiviral drugs are available to fight encephalitis)
Antibiotics -- if the infection is caused by certain bacteria
Anti-seizure medications (such as phenytoin) -- to prevent seizures
Steroids (such as dexamethasone) -- to reduce brain swelling (in rare cases)
Sedatives -- to treat irritability or restlessness
Acetaminophen -- for fever and headache
If brain function is severely affected, interventions like physical therapy and speech therapy may be needed after the illness is controlled.
The outcome varies. Some cases are mild and short, and the person fully recovers. Other cases are severe, and permanent impairment or death is possible.
The acute phase normally lasts for 1 - 2 weeks. Fever and symptoms gradually or suddenly disappear. Some people may take several months to fully recover.
Permanent brain damage may occur in severe cases of encephalitis. It can affect:
Calling your health care provider
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have:
Other symptoms of encephalitis
Children and adults should avoid contact with anyone who has encephalitis.
Controlling mosquitoes (a mosquito bite can transmit some viruses) may reduce the chance of some infections that can lead to encephalitis.
Apply an insect repellant containing the chemical, DEET when you go outside (but never use DEET products on infants younger than 2 months).
Remove any sources of standing water (such as old tires, cans, gutters, and wading pools).
Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants when outside, particularly at dusk.
Vaccinate animals to prevent encephalitis caused by the rabies virus.
Human vaccinations that are available include:
A vaccination to prevent a form of viral encephalitis that often affects people living in dorms or in the military
Nath A. Berger JR. Acute viral encephalitis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 439.
Beckham JD, Tyler KL. Encephalitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 87.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.