Herpes encephalitis, or herpes simplex encephalitis, is a condition in which the brain gets swollen. This happens due to the fact that the herpes simplex 1 virus travels along nerves and reaches the brain. Encephalitis is caused by a number of viruses. The HSV-1 is responsible for the vast majority of fatalities due to sporadic encephalitis. Herpes encephalitis only affects two people in a million in the US. There are two types of herpes simplex encephalitis, depending on the age of the patient.
The first case occurs if a pregnant mother contacts herpes simplex type 2 which will develop into genital herpes. The baby is then somewhat prone to catching the virus. It is important to treat the symptoms as soon as they are noticed. If left untreated and the mother gives birth while presenting symptoms, then the baby is highly exposed to the virus. Given the fact that the newborn's brain and skull are still developing the entire brain can be affected. Usually this does not happen because the doctor will opt for a caesarian section, rather than a natural birth. Herpes encephalitis can affect a baby that has contacted HSV-2 from the mother in the first three months of life.
The second case is applied only to children older than 3 months and adults. The culprit is still the herpes simplex virus, but type 1. This herpes virus is responsible for cold sores. It is very unlikely that this virus will reach the brain. It cannot travel there through the bloodstream because of the BBB (Blood Brain Barrier). But it can, in very rare occasions, reach the brain by traveling up the nose cavity, reaching the sinuses and then the brain. This will result in herpes encephalitis. The condition is very rare and treatable.
In order to get an accurate diagnosis for the encephalitis, doctors will do a spinal tap and extract some spinal fluid. It is in this fluid that they will find the DNA strand of the herpes simplex virus and know for sure that it is the cause behind the condition. Treatment consists of intravenous acyclovir.
In both cases, the number one thing to do is treat the herpes symptoms. This will prevent the virus from spreading from a mother to her child during childbirth. Also, administering antiviral medication will keep the virus at bay, stopping it in its tracts if it tries to get to the brain.
Taking care of your body's immune system is also crucial. A strong immune system will keep the virus latent, not allowing it to become symptomatic. There is no known permanent cure for herpes simplex.
As for the herpes simplex virus type 1, again, the most important thing is to treat symptoms. Usually, you can get rid of cold sores in 3-10 days if the correct treatment is applied on time. Doing this will prevent the virus from advancing any further then your lips or mouth. Also, hygiene is very important in preventing herpes encephalitis.
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