Raising awareness of encephalitis - a serious brain condition

20 March 2024

Each year up to 6,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with encephalitis, an uncommon but serious condition in which the brain becomes inflamed. Encephalitis can affect anyone but the very young and very old at most at risk.

Types of encephalitis

There are two main types of encephalitis, infective and autoimmune , the majority of encephalitis cases result from either a viral infection (infective) or the person’s immune system mistakenly attacking their brain tissue (autoimmune).


Encephalitis can often manifest as flu like symptoms with high temperatures and headaches. Over a short period, more serious symptoms can develop including confusion, seizures, difficulty speaking, weakness, loss of movement and even a loss of consciousness. It is vital therefore that medical attention is sought promptly.


There are several causes of the condition the main ones being:·

  • Viral infections – common viruses such as the herpes simplex viruses (which cause cold sores) and varicella zoster virus (which causes chickenpox and shingles) can spread to the brain and cause encephalitis.
  •  Bacterial, fungus and parasites can cause infectious encephalitis, but these cases are much rarer.


Symptoms alone often do not allow sufficient ability to distinguish between the many diseases that can mimic encephalitis so a number of tests will be required including brain scans, lumbar puncture, electroencephalogram (EEG) and blood tests.


Prompt medical attention is vital as early diagnosis and prompt treatment improves the outcome. Treatment is dependent upon the cause being established but can include antiviral medications, steroids and antibiotics amongst others.

If diagnosed early and treated promptly, a good recovery can be made from the condition although it can cause persistent problems and can be fatal.

Sarah Harper, a legal director specialising in medical negligence claims at Shoosmiths has recently acted for a family whose loved one’s diagnosis of encephalitis was made too late.

Sarah’s comments:

‘Mrs W became unwell with confusion, memory loss, nausea, blurred vision, headaches and tiredness. She was admitted to hospital when her symptoms deteriorated where it was initially suggested that she had Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia. Mrs W was later discharged with a referral to the memory clinic. Mrs W’s symptoms deteriorated significantly in the weeks leading up to her diagnosis and her family were desperate for a diagnosis as they knew that her symptoms were serious.

Approximately two weeks after her first visit to A&E she collapsed and was readmitted to hospital, where an MRI scan subsequently confirmed Mrs W was suffering with encephalitis. ‘Mrs W suffered significant and irreversible brain damage due to the delay in diagnosis and had the A and E doctor spotted the signs of the condition when she first presented, then she would have been diagnosed and treated at an earlier stage. Although she still would have had some aftereffects, the damage would have been much less. As a result of this, Mrs W had to be looked after in a care home and passed away 12 months after her diagnosis from the injuries she sustained.

This was such a devastating loss for her loving family. Her children described their late mother as “a force of nature who was very much a vital part of her family and community”. They are now campaigning to raise awareness of encephalitis and are involved in numerous fund raising events to help those affected by this dreadful condition.

Sarah was successful in pursuing a claim against the hospital due to the delayed diagnosis.

Read how our client’s family helped to raise awareness and funds on World Encephalitis Day: https://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/health/douglas-and-ramsey-landmarks-lit-up-in-all-red-for-encephalitis-668106 



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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