Encephalitis vs Meningitis: Variations

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What is encephalitis?

People with very mild encephalitis or meningitis can make a full recovery

Encephalitis is inflammation of the tissue in the brain. Its symptoms include:

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is inflammation of the coverings (meninges) of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of meningitis include:

What are the causes of encephalitis and meningitis?

Both encephalitis and meningitis are most commonly caused by a virus. Meningitis can also be caused by bacteria, fungi, and parasites, but these are less common.

Viruses that cause meningitis include the influenza virus, mumps, measles virus, and herpes virus.

Encephalitis can also be autoimmune encephalitis. The inflammation in autoimmune encephalitis is caused by the body’s immune system attacking healthy cells. Meningitis caused by an autoimmune component has not yet been reported.

Encephalitis can also be caused by arboviruses – types of viruses transmitted by tick and mosquito bites. Types of such encephalitis include West Nile virus, Eastern horse, and rabid encephalitis (caused by rabies).

How are encephalitis and meningitis diagnosed?

Aside from the history, signs, and symptoms, diagnosing meningitis and encephalitis requires:

Encephalitis may require additional testing for its diagnosis. These include:

  • Electroencephalography (placing electric metal disks on your head to measure electrical activity in your brain)
  • Brain biopsy (surgical removal of brain tissue for examination under a microscope)

How do doctors treat encephalitis and meningitis?

Encephalitis and meningitis are life-threatening conditions that require you to be hospitalized immediately.

Treatment for bacterial forms of meningitis and encephalitis includes antibiotic therapy.

The antivirals can be used by the doctor for viral encephalitis. The drug to control seizures and dexamethasone to control brain swelling may be given.

Viral meningitis can be treated with antiviral and anti-inflammatory drugs.


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Can encephalitis and meningitis be prevented?

The measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR vaccine) works against encephalitis. However, there is no vaccine against tick-borne encephalitis. Although not available in the US, it is available in Europe and Canada. The vaccine is recommended for people traveling to regions in Europe where tick-borne encephalitis is widespread.

There are several vaccines available for meningitis. These include:

To avoid mosquito or tick bites, people should

  • Limit outdoor activities at night.
  • Wear long-sleeved clothing outdoors.
  • Use insect repellant.
  • Remove any standing water that is on the lawns.

What is the recovery rate for meningitis and encephalitis?

The time it takes to recover from encephalitis and meningitis depends on:

  • The type of microbe
  • The severity of the disease
  • How quickly the treatment is done

People with very mild encephalitis or meningitis can make a full recovery, although the process can be slow. Extremely severe cases can lead to death. People with mild symptoms can recover within 15 to 30 days. The acute phase of encephalitis with severe symptoms can last one to two weeks, with fever and neurological symptoms gradually or suddenly disappearing over the next few weeks. Individuals being treated for bacterial meningitis typically show improvements in two to three days, although full recovery takes time. In severe cases, these diseases can cause permanent hearing loss, speech loss, blindness, memory loss, mental decline, and seizures. For many people, physical therapy and rehabilitation may be required to combat residual damage to parts of the body. Mortality rates vary between 20 and 75%, depending on the organism affected and whether the encephalitis was treated on time or left untreated.

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Medically checked on 11/16/2020

References

Encephalitis. Available at: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/791896-overview

Meningitis and Encephalitis Fact Sheet. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Meningitis-and-Encephalitis-Fact-Sheet

Tick-borne encephalitis. Available at: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/tickborne-encephalitis

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