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In today's society headaches have become a very common, but not serious problem. Most people will experience many headaches randing from sinus to migraines throughout their lives. Headaches have become such a familiar discomfort to most individuals that they often go untreated. They can be an extremely good indicator of eye or ear infections, colds, flues, and other minor ilnesses. However, headaches can also be a strong indicator of more serious problems such as the viral infection, encephalitis. This type of infection is an acute inflammation of the brain, which is caused by various factors but most commonly viral infections. Encephalitis directly affects the brain and the membranes that cover the brain, which are known as the meninges. Encephalitis can occur as a "primary disorder: or as a "secondary complication" to other viral disorders, and it can occur in such mild cases that it may go unnoticed. Although encephalitis can be mild and fairly rare, it can develop into extrememly severe cases that may even require hospitilization. So, there are many causes, risk factors, symptoms, and treatments of encephalitis of which people should be aware.

The first cases of encephalitis occurred in Europe and the United States just after World War II and since then have occurred all throughout the world. Encephalitis is divided into two groups based on the different causes of each one. The first group, Neurotropic-Virus Encephalitis, occurs in an individual as a primary infection. This virus affects mostly wild birds and animals and is transmitted to humans through insect vectors. The St. Louis encephalitis epidemic in 1933 was caused by the transmission of the virus to humans through mosquitoes. Japanese B and Equine Encephalomyelitis are other types of encephalitis, which are transmitted through mosquitoes. Ticks are also potential carriers of encephalitis and most typically cause the Russian Spring-Summer Encephalitis. The second type of encephalitis occurs as a complication to a primary viral infection. This type can appear as postinfective encephalitis or postvaccinal encephalitis. Postinfective encephalitis is caused as a complication to other viral infections such as polio, measles, mumps, chickenpox, small pox, and rubella, to name a few. However, postvaccinal encephalitis occurs as a reaction to vaccines for smallpox or yellow fever. In addition, encephalitis may also appear from exposure to certain bacteria, parasites, harmful chemicals, or heavy metal poisoning.

There are also many risk factors associated with encephalitis, however the amount of risk varies from each individual. First, encephalitis infects both sexes of all ages. Yet, an individual is at an increased risk if they are newborns, infants, or adults over sixty because the immune system at these ages is not as strong. Also, if an individual has suffered from previous illnesses that lower their resistance or are infected with the HIV or AIDS virus, the risk factor increases. Unsanitary living conditions are another component to increased risk. Traveling or living in areas which contain high amounts of mosquitoes, ticks, or other insects also extends the amount of risk. Nonetheless, there are certain preventative measures that can be taken. Insect repellent, mosquito netting, and limited exposure to insects are the best preventive measures available.

Along with causes and risk factors there are also various signs and symptoms of which people should be aware. The first and most common sign in both mild and severe cases is a persistent headache. Mild cases often times may experience no symptoms or a general ill feeling accompanied with a fever. Much more severe cases have many more prominent symptoms. Individuals may experience vomiting, headaches, a stiff neck, or extreme lethargy. More advanced cases may be accompanied with seizures, unconsciousness, double vision, speech impairment, hearing loss, or paralysis or weakness of the limbs. Sufferers of encephalitis may also experience personality changes and mood swings. These symptoms can range from minor to extremely serious and can result in permanent brain damage or damage of the muscle functions if ignored.

Last, there are various treatments available which can help to relieve and cure encephalitis. If the symptoms, which are described above, are present there may be laboratory studies of the blood and cerebrospinal fluid and x-rays taken of the skull to determine if the problem is in fact encephalitis. Hospitalization is often not needed, but it may be required in severe cases. However, a physician often prescribes medication to help treat and relieve the encephalitis. Acetaminophen can be prescribed to treat a headache or a fever. Other antiviral drugs, acyclovir or amantadine may also be suggested. Rare cases may require cortisone drugs to suppress inflammation or other drugs to control seizures. Bed rest in a darkened room is essential for sufferers of encephalitis and it may take two or three weeks for full recovery. There is no special diet that must be followed during this time.

Overall, encephalitis can be a severe illness of which most people should be aware. Although most cases are mild and severe cases are extremely rare, it is important to be aware of the causes, risk factors, symptoms, and treatments of encephalitis in order to best prevent it.