How Encephalitis Affects Children

In Medicine, we speak of encephalitis when there is inflammation in the central nervous system, that is, and simplifying the terms a bit, in the brain. This is not exactly the case, since the central nervous system includes other organs, but this is of little relevance outside the medical world. Depending on whether it also affects the meninges or the spinal cord, it can also be called meningoencephalitis or encephalomyelitis.

The point is that encephalitis is a serious condition, fortunately rare, and can have several causes, being the most common infectious origin.

The neurological symptoms are those that predominate the clinical picture, and those that should make the pediatrician suspect the diagnosis. All of them are derived from an alteration of brain functions, in such a way that they can appear:

- The main and common symptom in almost all encephalitis is alteration in the child's level of consciousness, who will be drowsy and with little response to various stimuli.

- Alterations in behavior.

- Alterations in gait or movement of the limbs.

- Alteration of sensitivity or stingling feeling.

- Seizures ...

The onset of symptoms can be acute, in a very short period of time, even a matter of hours, or subacute, more insidiously, over days, weeks or months. The association with fever should make the doctor suspect an infectious origin.

Viruses are the most common cause of encephalitis, especially enteroviruses, which have recently become fashionable due to an aggregation of cases in children, which began in February 2016 in Catalonia (Spain). These are cases of rhombencephalitis, which have been well studied and identified, and have mainly affected the gait pattern. Fortunately, most of the cases have been mild and there is currently no cause for alarm. Other viruses, such as herpes, are a common cause of encephalitis, and also other microorganisms, such as The tuberculosis.

Among the non-infectious causes, rarer still, stand out metabolic, rheumatologic and autoimmune diseases, and tumors, which unfortunately also exist in children.

The most important thing in encephalitis is that the diagnostic suspicion is early, and look for the cause of the brain inflammation from the first moment. It is a priority because, Depending on the origin of the encephalitis, the treatment will be different: antivirals, antibiotics, corticosteroids, etc ... There are many options, although there are also cases in which there are no options, and we can only wait for a spontaneous resolution. And other times, despite being sad and frustrating, children die of encephalitis.

Although there are many causes, in some cases we have preventive vaccines. Such is the case of measles or rubella encephalitis, which can be prevented with the MMR vaccine. Also of central European encephalitis or transmitted by ticks, whose vaccine is recommended for people living in endemic areas (where the disease is common) and travelers to forest or rural areas of central and northeastern Europe. And also from Japanese encephalitis, transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes of the genus Culex, whose vaccination is recommended for travelers who will stay more than a month in endemic areas (Southeast Asia and Western Pacific) during the months of transmission (monsoons), or in shorter stays in rural areas or areas with an active and confirmed outbreak of Japanese encephalitis. In addition, many other vaccines prevent cases of pneumococcal, meningococcal, or Haemophilus meningitis and meningoencephalitis. One more reason, if they are missing, to vaccinate, of everything, our children.

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