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22nd February is World Encephalitis Day

Every year, the 22nd February is set aside for awareness of one of the most devastating illnesses in the world. Thanks to this increased awareness already generated (the day only had its inaugural event in 2014), great strides have been made in treating this horrific condition. Yet many people still do not understand what it is, what causes it or how they can help.

What is Encephalitis?

Simply, encephalitis is brain inflammation. There are two identified causes. The first is a direct infection of brain matter (viral – known as Primary Encephalitis). The second is an autoimmune problem that wrongly identifies the brain as a threat to the rest of the body. This occurs when a virus infects another part of the body and then moves to the brain.

We cannot eradicate this condition. The various charities dedicated to this condition know that it will never go away. But it is treatable; that is why their mission is to ensure that everybody who needs it has early access to diagnosis and treatment, management of the condition and rehabilitation, and aftercare support for their recovery.

Symptoms are debilitating and can lead to brain damage or even death in some cases. For many others, long term and permanent issues are likely.


What are the Symptoms?

The symptoms of encephalitis are many and complex, ranging from mild to severe to the life threatening.

  • Mild symptoms include: fever, vomiting, severe headaches, stiffness, drowsiness and general lethargy.
  • More severe symptoms include: dangerously high fever, hallucinations, impaired movement, irritability, sensitivity to light, seizures, periods of unconsciousness and coma
  • Very young children may experience: vomiting, soft spot on the scalp (known as bulging fontanel), poor appetite, stiff body

Children under the age of 12 months are most at risk. In adults, those with immune deficiency are most at risk from this condition. It is important to remember that this condition is rare, though very serious and caused by external problems.

Complications can occur in some instances such as hearing loss, sight loss, memory problems (short or long term). These have the potential to become permanent. As is brain damage, learning disability, impaired co-ordination and a range of others.


Why Do We Need a Word Encephalitis Day?

This serious condition has potential long-term consequences for a sufferer. In most cases where the patient will experience permanent effects of the condition, these are usually minor. For those whose condition clears up in a matter of days, a full recovery is likely. The patient’s quality of life will nearly always depend on severity and recognition.

What is more important is that those who can receive vaccinations do so. Encephalitis is a secondary condition usually (but not always), caused by measles, rubella and chicken pox viruses amongst others. These conditions have widely available vaccines, but a misunderstanding of vaccines and the Andrew Wakefield case means that vaccine uptake has dropped in recent years. We need to understand encephalitis for itself, but also as a warning of the risks of not getting your child or children vaccinated.


This Year’s Theme

The world’s encephalitis charities expect 2017 to be bigger than ever. This year’s theme is a simple one and like many other awareness days, they are using social media to drum up support. The hashtag #Red4Wed will launch onto your devices on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram showing some of the world’s best-known monuments lit up in red for encephalitis awareness. In the UK, Trafalgar Square and Blackpool Tower will turn red. Why not use the day to turn your own home red? It’s never too late and it’s certainly never too late to raise awareness of why you are doing it and imploring your friends and family to donate to this important cause.