How is encephalitis treated?
Treatment will depend on the type of encephalitis that has been diagnosed. Some treatments may start before a definite diagnosis has been made. These may include anti-convulsant medication for seizures and sedatives for agitation. As soon as encephalitis is considered to be a possible diagnosis then an anti-viral medication, Acyclovir, will be given. Acyclovir is a very effective antiviral of herpes simplex virus. This virus is responsible for 30% of encephalitis which has a direct infectious cause. Ref Although less than 10% of cases which have encephalitis as a possible diagnosis are found to be herpes simplex encephalitis, acyclovir should still be given. This is because without this treatment a very high proportion of children who are ill with herpes simplex encephalitis will not survive.
Steroids may be given, steroids lessen the activity of the immune system. Although the immune system is the body’s defence against infection, it can be overactive in encephalitis. It can cause an excess of fluid in the brain (inflammation) causing the brain to swell. Certain immune cells target and destroy cells that contain virus, but in the brain they can also damage healthy nerve cells which cannot be regenerated.
Steroids are also used to treat autoimmune types of encephalitis. A less active immune system will produce less of the antibodies that are causing the illness. When steroids are not effective in reducing the load of antibodies, IVIG or plasma exchange may be given.
If your child is critically ill, or has excessive brain swelling or has constant seizures then he/she will be put on a life support machine. This machine takes over all you child’s vital functioning allowing their brain and body to rest and recover.