Encephalitis in Children

October 29, 2019
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Vaccinations prevent various diseases, including measles, mumps, and rubella, but did you know that vaccinations can also prevent conditions that occur along with those diseases? One of the most common conditions is encephalitis. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain. But even children who have received vaccinations can get encephalitis. So, what causes it, and how can you treat a child who has it?

What is encephalitis?

Encephalitis is an inflammation — swelling and irritation — of the brain. This is typically caused by a virus or, in some rare cases, an autoimmune disease. Encephalitis can cause a child’s nervous system to change, increased confusion, changes in alertness, and seizures. Meningitis — inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord — often occurs simultaneously. Combined, these conditions can be life-threatening to your child and need to be treated as quickly as possible.

Encephalitis Causes

Since viruses are the main cause of encephalitis, children vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox have a lower risk of experiencing the disease. Viruses like herpes, simplex, West Nile, and rabies can also cause encephalitis.

Other causes of encephalitis include viral illnesses like upper respiratory infections and bacterial infections such as Lyme disease. In some cases, autoimmune diseases that cause tumors can trigger encephalitis. Autoimmune reactions are caused when your body’s immune system attacks brain tissues.

Pediatric Encephalitis Symptoms

The signs of encephalitis occur differently for every child, and some acute cases barely show symptoms. Regardless, signs that your child has encephalitis may include the following:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Bulging fontanels (soft spots)
  • Light sensitivity
  • Aches in muscles or joints
  • Neck stiffness
  • Fatigue & lethargy
  • Increased irritability
  • Seizures
  • Skin rash
  • Changes in alertness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or hallucinations
  • Trouble talking or changes in speech
  • Loss of appetite
  • Issues walking
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of sensation or paralysis in certain areas of the face or body
  • Muscle weakness

Diagnosing a Child with Encephalitis

Since the symptoms of encephalitis can be similar to an array of other illnesses and diseases, the best way to determine if your child has encephalitis is to ask a healthcare provider. Your pediatrician will ask about your child’s vaccine history, if they’ve had a cold recently, and other questions to help determine if encephalitis is the cause. If your doctor suspects your child has this disease, they may conduct tests, including:

Pediatric Encephalitis Symptoms Treatment

Since encephalitis paired with meningitis can be life-threatening, it’s important that you get treatment for your child as soon as possible. Every treatment is different and is based on factors, including symptoms, age, the severity of the condition, and general health. The goal of treatment is to reduce swelling and prevent complications.

Your doctor may prescribe medications to prevent infections from spreading and control seizures. In some cases, a breathing machine may be required. As your child improves, they may need physical, occupational, or speech therapy to regain muscle strength and speech skills.

Your child will need regular checkups and doctor visits to monitor progress, change medications, and ensure they heal properly. You should also talk to your doctor about any side effects your child may experience and stay informed on the risks and benefits of all treatments.

Caring for a Child with Encephalitis

While most children recover fully over time, some children may experience ongoing nervous system problems that can only be remedied by recovery therapy. In addition to helping them take medication and attend recovery therapy, you’ll need to make sure they’re getting nutrients — if they have a loss of appetite — and be conscious of any new symptoms that occur. If new symptoms occur or existing symptoms remain the same or worsen, you should talk to their pediatrician immediately.

Contact Care Options for Kids For Pediatric Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.