Encephalitis is a rare but serious condition in which the brain becomes inflamed (swollen).

It can be life-threatening and requires urgent treatment in hospital.

Anyonecan be affected, but the very young and very old are most at risk.

This page covers:




Recovery and complications


Symptoms of encephalitis

Encephalitis sometimes starts off with flu-like symptoms , such as a high temperature and Headaches , but these don't always occur.

More serious symptoms develop over hours, days or weeks, including:

  • confusion or disorientation
  • seizures (fits)
  • changes in personality and behaviour
  • difficulty speaking
  • weakness or loss of movement in some parts of the body
  • loss of consciousness

Dial 999 for an ambulance immediately if you or someone else has these more serious symptoms.

The earlier treatment is started, the more successful it's likely to be.

Treatment depends onthe underlyingcause, but may include:

  • antiviral medication
  • steroid injections
  • treatmentsto helpcontrol the immune system
  • antibiotics or antifungal medication
  • painkillers to reduce discomfort or a fever
  • medication to control seizures (fits)
  • support with breathing, such as oxygen through a face mask or a breathing machine (ventilator)

How long someone with encephalitis needs to stay in hospital can range from a few days to several weeks or even months.

But help and support is available.


Preventing encephalitis

It's not always possible to prevent encephalitis, butsome of the infections that cause it can be prevented with vaccinations.

These include the:

  • MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)vaccine a routine vaccination offered to all children in England
  • Japanese encephalitis vaccine recommended for travellers to at-risk areas , such as parts of Asia
  • tick-borne encephalitis vaccine recommended for travellers to certain parts ofEurope (but not the UK) and Asia
  • rabies vaccination recommended for travellers to at-risk areas where access to medical care is likely to be limited

Speak to your GP if you're not sure whether your vaccinations are up to date, or you're planning to travel abroad and don't know if you need any vaccinations.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 20 Dec 2016