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My child is home / Recovery

Will my child make a full recovery?

There is no easy answer to this question. Some children will make a good recovery and others will not. Recovery will depend on a number of factors.

  • The type of encephalitis that made your child ill and how quickly the illness was diagnosed and treated.
  • How serious the illness and how many seizures your child had during the illness.
  • Your child’s immune response.
  • Your child’s age

The type of encephalitis that made your child ill and how quickly it was diagnosed and treated.

From the moment your child becomes ill with encephalitis there are damaging effects occurring. Some of these are reversible with treatment and some damage is repairable.

If your child’s illness has been caused by a direct infection there will have been damage to the working parts of the brain – neurons. Your child’s brain has 10 billion neurons, so losing a few will not have serious consequences. The neurons branch and connect forming a network. As your child grows networks become “hard wired” and take on functions. An example is when your child learns to ride a bike. The neurons that become active as your child learns to ride connect into networks that become “hard wired”. Now riding becomes automatic. Damage to neurons in this network will result in the loss of their function and your child will have to relearn to ride a bike. Networks exist for all functions – seeing, hearing, understanding language, recognising faces – the list is long. Whilst one function may be severely damaged others may be completely intact.

Autoimmune types of encephalitis affect the way neurons work rather than damage the whole neuron. Networks are therefore protected and a more complete recovery is possible. But even with early diagnosis and treatment there are a small number of children in whom the illness will cause damage to neurons.

Damage to the working part of the brain – neurons – is termed “acquired brain injury” and children with acquired brain injury or abi, have a quite different spectrum of learning problems than children who have had brain damage from birth or developmental difficulties.

For additional information about the effects of abi visit www.braininjuryhub.co.uk

The number of seizures your child had during the illness.

The Encephalitis Society www.encephalitis.info undertook a study which showed that children who had more than 5 seizures during their acute illness had a greater risk of developing epilepsy. The study is published in their Newsletter.

Your child’s immune response.

The function of the immune system is to detect and destroy unwanted or foreign particles in the body, including viruses and bacteria. How quickly and effectively the immune system responds will vary from child to child and from time to time. At any one time your child may encounter an infection and a) respond so quickly and effectively that they do not appear to be ill, b) become slightly ill, c) become seriously ill, or d) have an autoimmune response (an overreaction of the immune system).

Your Child’s Age

Your child’s brain is in a constant state of development. At any one time some areas will be active, some areas fully functional and other still to begin their progress. The illness will result in some disruption to this development.

The greatest overall development of a child’s brain occurs in the child’s early years (Birth – 5 years). The foundation of the brain’s structure is mostly laid down by the time a child is five or six, but many of the functions of the brain develop in stages. The first areas to develop are the parts of the brain that are important for seeing, hearing and touch (sensory). By the age of 6 children gain such skills as the ability to form images, use words and put items into an order. They also begin to develop the ability to solve problems. Control of movement (the motor areas) progresses rapidly up to the age of eight then slows down. The frontal executive system now speeds up giving the child more control over emotions, improving reasoning and enabling planning.

Encephalitis could affect the development of new skills, of skills which emerge later in childhood, as well as those skills in a rapid state of development at the time of the illness.

Long-term outcomes of acute encephalitis in childhood.

Pediatric Acquired Brain Injury: A Call to Action From Dr Ron Savage