Encephalitis Information Week

Day Four: Thursday, October 21, 2021.

The first annual Encephalitis Information Week (October 18 to 25) is aimed at healthcare professionals and the general public and helping them to discover more about encephalitis, the latest in research, as well as our resources which may be useful for managing encephalitis and recovery and rehabilitation.

Today we look at how encephalitis is treated.

Treatment of patients with encephalitis has two aims.

1. The patient will receive specific treatment for the cause of their encephalitis, such as:

  • antivirals for viral types of encephalitis (aciclovir for herpes simplex encephalitis);
  • antibiotics for bacterial types; and
  • immunomodulatory drugs for autoimmune encephalitis (e.g. steroids, intravenous immunoglobulin, plasma exchange).
  • Please note, for some types of encephalitis there is no specific treatment aimed at the cause (e.g. West Nile encephalitis).

2. Treatment is aimed at the symptoms and complications arising from encephalitis.

Complications can include seizures and agitation, for example. Treatment can also support the patient whilst they are not able to perform their usual bodily functions (e.g. ventilation, insertion of a urinary or a feeding tube).

Some of the drugs (e.g. steroids) have potential side effects but also important benefits. In each patient the risk-benefit balance may vary, so the choice of treatment depends on each individual case. It is important that the treatment is started promptly, sometimes before a definite cause is found, as delay in treatment can be associated with unfavourable outcomes.

Sometimes a patient may be placed in an induced coma which is a temporary coma brought on by a controlled dose of drugs to shut down the brain and allow time to recover from the swelling caused by encephalitis. The doctors decide the length of the coma depending on the extent of injury and the way the patient reacts.

During and after the acute phase of encephalitis the patient may be uncharacteristically uncooperative, aggressive and even violent (acute confusional state). During this time, the patient is not aware of their behaviour or the impact it has on those around them or able to control it. When in this state, patients benefit from a ‘low stimulation’ environment. This means a quiet environment in which noise (e.g. from the television or telephone), and visits from others are minimised.

For more information about the treatment in autoimmune encephalitis please download

Immunotherapies in autoimmune encephalitis

  • More information about the treatment in autoimmune encephalitis

Death from encephalitis

  • Sadly, and despite improvements in specific and more supportive treatments, such as excellent intensive care management, encephalitis still has a high mortality rate. See also our Dealing with Bereavement factsheet.

Information for Health Professionals

Encephalitis Conference

  • Join us in London - or virtually - at our annual conference for healthcare professionals on 7th December. There will be cutting-edge insights from global leaders in the field of brain inflammation covering hot topics, critical research questions, and approaches to the key clinical challenges informed by the latest research.

A Guide for General Practitioners

  • Our guide for family doctors which looks at diagnosing and managing ABI, including encephalitis, in adults and children.

Management of viral encephalitis guidelines

  • Our guidelines covering the initial management of all patients with suspected encephalitis, up to the point of diagnosis, in an acute care setting such as acute medical unit or emergency department.

Research Summary

  • Advances in Encephalitis: Research Summary presents a summary of research papers published in a year.

WATCH - Paula, a volunteer with the Encephalitis Society, talks about life after encephalitis and volunteering with the Encephalitis Society.