What is encephalitis?
You may have heard people talk about getting encephalitis from mosquitoes. Or maybe you know a girl or boy who had it. Simply put, encephalitis is an infection of the brain. Many different kinds of bacteria
and viruses can cause encephalitis. But most of the outbreaks you hear about are caused by a group of viruses known as arboviruses. This article focuses on the outbreaks of the disease caused by arboviruses. These include Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), Western equine encephalitis (WEE), St. Louis encephalitis (SLE), and California encephalitis (CE). Different types of arboviruses are found in different parts of the country, which is where they get their names, but they all produce a similar illness. back to top
How do you get encephalitis?
Arboviruses are passed around when a mosquito flies from animal to animal, biting a few along the way. Suppose that a mosquito bites a horse that is infected with Eastern equine encephalitis. That virus then lives and multiplies inside the mosquito. If the mosquito bites a person, it can pass the virus on.
You may have heard that some communities are trying to prevent an outbreak of encephalitis by spraying mosquitoes to kill them. But don't panic if you get a mosquito bite! Most mosquitoes do not
carry the virus. back to top
How do you prevent encephalitis?
If you live in an area with mosquitoes, it's a good idea to take precautions. This is especially important early in the evening. Applying an insect repellant that contains DEET (less than 10%) may be helpful. You'll also want to wear long pants and long sleeves to discourage mosquitoes. back to top
What are the symptoms of encephalitis?
Most girls who get encephalitis feel very sick. Typical symptoms include headache, fever, and a stiff neck. Some people with encephalitis are very drowsy and may have a seizure
or hallucinations. Some may also have gastrointestinal
or upper respiratory symptoms. Girls who are severely ill may become partially or completely unconscious
. back to top
How can I find out if I have encephalitis?
If you have a high fever and severe headache, see your health professional whether or not you have a stiff neck. Keep in mind that not every person who has a bad headache, fever, and a stiff neck has encephalitis. Your health professional may do a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) to see if you have encephalitis. To do a spinal tap, a doctor inserts a very thin needle between the bones of your spine. She or he then draws out a small amount of spinal fluid. The fluid is checked for bacteria, viruses, and blood cells. You may need to have some blood tests done as well. back to top
How do you treat encephalitis?
Unfortunately, there are no drugs available right now that can kill the virus
. With hospital care, most people can fight off the virus and recover. Be sure to talk to your health professional if you think you might have encephalitis. back to top