Treating the cause
If a cause of encephalitis is found, treatment will start straight away.
Possible treatments include:
- antiviral medicine – used if encephalitis is caused by the herpes simplex or chickenpox viruses; it's usually given into a vein three times a day for 2 to 3 weeks
- steroid injections – used if encephalitis is caused by a problem with the immune system and sometimes in cases linked to the chickenpox virus; treatment is usually for a few days
- immunoglobulin therapy – medicine that helps control the immune system
- plasmapheresis – a procedure which removes the substances that are attacking the brain from the blood
- surgery to remove abnormal growths (tumours) – if encephalitis was triggered by a tumour somewhere in the body
- antibiotics or antifungal medicine – used if encephalitis is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection
If there's no treatment for the underlying cause, treatment is given to support the body, relieve symptoms, and allow the best chance of recovery.
Encephalitis puts a lot of strain on the body and can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms.
Most people need treatment to relieve these symptoms and to support certain bodily functions until they're feeling better.
This may involve:
- fluids given into a vein to prevent dehydration
- painkillers to reduce discomfort or a high temperature
- medicine to control seizures or fits
- medicine to help the person relax if they're very agitated
- oxygen given through a face mask to support the lungs – sometimes a machine called a ventilator may be used to control breathing
- medicine to prevent a build-up of pressure inside the skull
Occasionally, surgery to remove a small piece of the skull may be needed if the pressure inside increases and medicine is not helping.