Encephalitis claims – everything you need to know

What is encephalitis?

Encephalitis is a rare but serious condition which causes the brain to become inflamed, either through infection or through the body’s own immune system attacking the brain.

It can affect anyone at any age and its impact can vary significantly but the earlier treatment is started, the more successful the outcome is likely to be.

What are the different types of encephalitis?

There are two main types of encephalitis:

  • Infectious encephalitis – viruses are the most common cause and of these, the herpes simplex virus is most frequently identified. It may also be caused by bacteria or parasites, but these are rarer.
  • Autoimmune encephalitis – this form occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the brain. This occurs occasionally following an infection such as acute disseminated encephalitis (ADEM), but the majority of this form are associated with a finding of specific antibodies in the blood (for example, VGKC complex or NMDA, GAD, AMPAR and GABA antibodies). Sometimes the cause may be due to a tumour (benign or cancerous) but generally it is unknown what causes these antibodies to be produced in most cases.

What are the symptoms of encephalitis?

In infectious encephalitis symptoms may begin with a flu-like illness, such as a high fever and headache followed by more serious symptoms hours, days or few weeks later, including:

  • disorientation, confusion, or drowsiness, to possible loss of consciousness
  • seizures
  • aversion to bright lights
  • high temperature
  • behavioural changes
  • difficulty in speaking
  • weakness or loss of or inability to control movement

Autoimmune encephalitis has a longer onset, in some cases months or even years, and the symptoms will vary depending on the type of antibody but will likely include any of the following:

  • confusion
  • seizures
  • altered personality or behaviour / psychosis
  • hallucinations
  • movement disorders / clumsiness / unsteadiness and falls
  • sleep disturbances, including difficulty sleeping at night, excessive sleepiness during the day, sleep walking, talking in sleep, obstructive sleep apnoea
  • memory loss

How is encephalitis diagnosed?

The symptoms and history at presentation will provide some indication of the condition but medical tests will be required to confirm the diagnosis of encephalitis.

These tests may include a lumbar puncture to take a sample of spinal fluid for testing, brain scans (CT and / or MRI) which may show a specific area or appearance typically associated with encephalitis, an electroencephalogram (EEG) which may also indicate patterns typical in encephalitis and also blood tests for signs of infection or antibodies.

What is the treatment for encephalitis?

In all cases, treatment is required urgently and so if there is any delay in carrying out investigations, this really should not delay treatment which should be started immediately.

Specific treatment will be required for the underlying cause of encephalitis. This will be anti-viral medication for viral infections such as acyclovir for herpes simplex encephalitis; antibiotics for bacterial types and medications known as immunomodulatory drugs for the autoimmune types.

The treatment regime should be based on each individual’s clinical features and test results but may include intravenous steroids, intravenous immunoglobulins, plasma exchange and immunosuppressant drugs.

Treatment is also required to treat and support the symptoms and complications that may arise. This may comprise of a period of ventilation to assist with breathing, or it may be additional medication such as treatment for seizures.

What are the after-effects and rehabilitation process of encephalitis?

Encephalitis affects people differently and recovery will likely be a long process. It is a distressing and difficult time for those affected and for their loved ones. Some people may make a full recovery and be able to work and live independently, while others are left with significant long-term problems and require help with everyday living.

Long-term effects may include memory loss, personality or behavioural changes, seizures, difficulties with attention, planning, and problem solving. Sometimes the after-effects may be subtle but can still have a significant effect on a person’s ability to function as they did before.

Coming to terms with this is difficult and you will need help in rebuilding your life.

In these circumstances, input from a range of professionals will be tailored to aid rehabilitation for greater independence and provide emotional support and coping strategies, not just to the affected person but also for their loved ones.

Further information and support

However you or a loved one may be affected, the Encephalitis Society will provide further information and support for people living with encephalitis. The Encephalitis Society is committed to raising awareness, raising standards and is at the forefront of research into causes, treatments and outcomes in this area.

Medical negligence around encephalitis

Our NHS provides an outstanding service for the most part but sadly mistakes do happen. If you feel mistakes may have been made leading to a missed disgnosis of encephalitis or a delay in treating your encephalitis or that of a loved one, you, or they, may be entitled to compensation.

Early diagnosis and appropriate timely treatment are crucial to give the best chance of a good recovery, so it is vital that encephalitis is diagnosed and treated at the earliest opportunity.

It is not always easy to diagnose or treat encephalitis and, despite the best efforts of those involved in your care, the outcome is not always what you or your loved ones would hope for. On rare occasions, the standard of treatment may fall short of that which the medical profession itself would expect. Such situations include:

  • A failure to diagnose the condition.
  • A failure to carry out the appropriate tests.
  • A failure to provide appropriate, timely treatment.

What compensation can be offered for encephalitis claims?

Encephalitis can cause many long-term complications, which will have an impact on the future quality of life. Any of those complications will have a huge impact on you and your loved ones and living with encephalitis often requires extra care and support to help the adaptation to your changed circumstances.

We can help you identify and access the care, support, and rehabilitation that may be needed to help you or your loved one to live with the lasting consequences of encephalitis. It is possible to claim compensation that will help to pay for the support that you or your loved one may require, possibly for the rest of your or their life.

Moore Barlow has vast experience in dealing successfully with encephalitis claims. We understand that bringing a claim whilst living with encephalitis is not easy, but we will support you through the process so if you have concerns about your treatment or that of a loved one, please do call us for a free, no obligation discussion so we can advise you how we may help you.

Get in touch with our expert medical negligence solicitors about a potential claim