Encephalitis remains an underdiagnosed disease despite having a high mortality rate. On the occasion of World Encephalitis Day, on February 22, the Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN) reminds that its prognosis depends largely on early diagnosis and treatment.
Representation of a brain in the exhibition “Brains: the mind as matter”. EFE-Photo provided by the Wellcome Collection museum
The encephalitis corresponds to the inflammation of brain tissue (if the inflammation also affects the meninges it is called meningoencephalitis) and it is a disease that leaves sequels more than one 20% of people who manage to survive, so early diagnosis is crucial.
The mortality rate in Spain is one 5 and one 20% of people suffering from encephalitis. Some are diagnosed every year 1,200 new casesaccording to the data of the Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN).
What are the symptoms of encephalitis?
The doctor Marta Guillán, secretary of the Critical and Intensivist Neurology study group of the SENindicates that the clinical manifestations of encephalitis are varied, but points out some of the most common symptoms:
- Presence of fever.
- Sudden onset of drowsiness.
- Behavioral changes.
- Language disorders.
- Convulsive seizures.
“Encephalitis is a very serious disease, with a high mortality rate and which can cause significant neurological sequelae. For this reason, if you suspect that you are suffering from encephalitis, you must go to a hospital urgently”, the expert emphasizes.
How does this disease originate?
Encephalitis is caused by causes very diverse, including:
- Viruses, bacteria or fungiwhich give rise to a infectious encephalitis.
- toxic agent.
- Tumors and/or proteins that attack the interior or the surface of the neurons, which can cause a autoimmune encephalitis.
Depending on the causes, “the treatment is different and must be started many times before all the laboratory results are available”, says the specialist.
An underdiagnosed disease
For Dr. Guillán, the early diagnosis of encephalitis is key, as the probability that the patient will evolve favorably is greater.
And, although there are currently new multiparametric microbiological diagnostic methods capable of identifying the causative agent, it still remains aunderdiagnosed and underreported disease.
The SEN estimates that a more than 40% of the cases you don’t get one precise causal diagnosis.
Regarding the incidence, the doctor emphasizes that it is greater in the child and adolescent population. Specifically, 10 out of every 100,000 children will suffer from encephalitis this year, and the proportion will be even greater among children under one year old, since 20 out of every 100,000 they will suffer
Infectious encephalitis, on the decline
Thanks to vaccination programs, both for children and adults, and for hygienic measures, the number of infectious encephalitis is progressive descent.
“On the contrary, more and more cases of autoimmune encephalitis are being identified and treated, in which the genetic predisposition and the environmental causes (such as previous viral infections and even pollution) are the possible risk factors for developing this type of encephalitis that have been studied the most”, explains Guillán.
Despite this, the herpes simplex virusthe Epstein-Barrthe hiv and the viruses of the chicken pox, measles, warts, polio i rubella (in unvaccinated people) remain the most frequent cause worldwide, as he points out.
Vaccination to prevent
From the SEN, they emphasize the importance of vaccination, especially for the population at risk (children, the elderly and people with an affected immune system or who are being treated with immunosuppressive drugs).
As well as before traveling to certain places where there may be mosquitoes and/or ticks that are potential transmitters of viruses that cause encephalitis.
“Population strategies, such as the vaccination schedule for life, as well as the hygiene measures taken during the pandemic, are the best tools we currently have to prevent this disease,” concludes the SEN specialist.