As we approach the second annual World Encephalitis Day on February 22nd, I wanted to talk about the viral infection that left Isabella with an Acquired Brain Injury. It was Thanksgiving Day, November 25th, 2010 when Isabella came down with sudden acute encephalitis. At the time I had no idea what encephalitis was. I remember hearing something on the news about mosquitos having it but that was the extent of my knowledge. I quickly learned more than I could have ever imaged possible. Encephalitis is inflammation in the brain usually as a result of an infection whether it is bacterial or viral. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center 10,000-20,000 cases of encephalitis happen every year in the United States. Like a brain injury, encephalitis does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, any age, any race, and at any time.
In minor cases of encephalitis the symptoms can mimic those of the flu. These flu-like symptoms can be headache, fever, muscle aches and fatigue. In major cases of encephalitis the symptoms are much more severe such as behavioral and personality changes, fever, headache, vomiting, lethargy, reduced or lost consciousness, disoriented, seizures, weakened muscles, light sensitivity, difficulty with speech vision or hearing, memory loss, coma and even death. I initially brought Isabella to the emergency room because she was dehydrated from vomiting, she had a severe headache and she was confused/disoriented. Within twenty four hours of being admitted, Isabella had a fever, seizures, increased vomiting, lethargy, light sensitivity, inconsolable pain from a headache and eventually she began to crash and die before my eyes. Isabella became unresponsive, her sodium plummeted and her body started to shut down.
The key to surviving encephalitis is in seeking medical attention immediately upon the start of symptoms. I was told had Isabella been at home she would have died. Encephalitis can have many causes. Some forms such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis, La Crosse Encephalitis, St Louis Encephalitis, West Nile Encephalitis are caused by viruses from insects such as mosquitoes. Other forms of viral encephalitis include Herpes Simplex Virus, Varicella zoster virus, Epstein-Barr Virus, measles and mumps. Sometimes encephalitis is caused by bacteria, fungus, parasites, toxins or autoimmune disease. Proper diagnosis is essential in receiving appropriate treatment. Diagnosis is usually done through physical exam, CT scan, MRI, lumbar puncture, EEG and blood work. Treatment varies depending on the type of encephalitis. The source of Isabella’s encephalitis was never determined. As a result Isabella was placed on antivirals, antibiotics and anything else that could possibly treat the encephalitis. As tests ruled out potential causes, medications were discontinued.
Most people who have mild encephalitis, when treated appropriately have a great chance at fully recovering. Those people like Isabella who are diagnosed with a severe case of encephalitis can have serious complications such as permanent damage to the brain. Encephalitis led us on this journey to recovering from an ABI. It is a miracle that Isabella survived. As World Encephalitis Day approaches I encourage you to learn the symptoms and help raise awareness for this horrible condition.
Guest Blogger, Kristin Olliney-Apruzzese, is the mother of 8-year-old Isabella, who suffered sudden acute encephalitis when she was just 4. Kristin’s bi-monthly blog, Mommy of a Miracle, talks about the trials and joys of raising a brain injury survivor.
Legal Statement: The information contained in this blog does not reflect the specific views of BIA-MA. This blog is published for informational purposes only. BIA-MA is not providing medical, legal or other professional advice with its publication.