Encephalitis, if left untreated, can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences. That is why it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention should a pregnant woman experience any of the symptoms of the condition.
Failure to diagnose or treat encephalitis in a timely fashion puts a pregnant woman and her baby at serious risk. If your doctor didn’t recognize the signs and respond appropriately, you and your child might be entitled to compensation for birth-related injuries. Schedule a free consultation with Stern Law, PLLC (800) 462-5772 to learn more.
Signs of encephalitis in adults
For adults, including pregnant women, the following are the most common signs of encephalitis:
- Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, coughing and fatigue – If meningitis accompanies encephalitis, a pregnant woman will likely experience a moderate to severe headache, muscle stiffness, especially in the neck, photophobia (extreme light sensitivity), nausea and vomiting.
- Hallucinations and agitation – This includes personality changes and mood swings.
- Depending upon the area of the brain infected, bodily functions may be affected – Some people may experience difficulty speaking, understanding simple vocabulary, muscle weakness, partial or complete paralysis, confusion, memory loss, impaired judgment, muscle tremors and the inability to regulate one’s body temperature.
- Skin rash
- Brain hemorrhaging
Signs of encephalitis in newborns
Newborn exposure can occur at various stages of pregnancy, but transmission of viral encephalitis to your infant is most prevalent during labor. Diagnosing encephalitis in newborns can be extremely difficult, as the signs and symptoms of the condition are not as readily apparent as in adults.
However, newborns typically display the following signs and symptoms of encephalitis:
- Incessant crying that does not improve when comforted
- Body stiffness
- A bulging fontanel, which is the swelling of the top center of an infant’s head
- Unusual soft spots on the skull
- Poor appetite
- Brain hemorrhaging
How is encephalitis diagnosed?
If a doctor suspects encephalitis in either a pregnant woman or newborn, they will likely take the following steps to verify a diagnosis of the infection:
- Blood test
- Spinal tap – Also known as a lumbar puncture, this test can identify viruses found in fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord
- CT Scan and MRI
- Electroencephalograph – This test measures brain waves in the temporal lobes
- Neurological examination – This determines the extent of confusion and drowsiness
Depending upon the patient, some of the above tests may or may not be appropriate. Generally, the use of X-ray imaging to diagnose encephalitis in pregnant women is contraindicated (not recommended). As such, medical professionals must determine which method is most appropriate for their patient, whether it be a pregnant woman or newborn child.
What is the treatment for encephalitis?
There are no specific types of medications that treat encephalitis. However, the use of anti-viral medications has been found to help alleviate the symptoms of the condition. These medications include:
- Acyclovir (Zovirax) – This medication is usually administered to those that contracted encephalitis due to HSV-2 as well as a number of arboviruses.
- Ganciclovir (Cytovene) – This anti-viral medication typically is used to treat encephalitis caused by HSV-1.
Additional treatment options include:
- Nutritional support, including plenty of fluids
- Corticosteroids to reduce brain swelling and inflammation
- Anticonvulsant medications should a patient suffer from seizures
Overall, a doctor must determine what the safest method of treatment is for his or her patient. For instance, certain forms of treatment may not be appropriate for a pregnant woman or a newborn child. Therefore, it’s always best to speak with a doctor to discover the treatment options should encephalitis be suspected during pregnancy or in an infant.
Preventing encephalitis in a newborn
For pregnant women with a history of HSV, it is important for a doctor to take the following steps – when appropriate – to avoid infection in a newborn child:
- Amniocentesis – This test is administered to a pregnant woman where amniotic fluid is tested for certain conditions, including HSV infection.
- Chorionic villus sampling – This form of prenatal diagnostic testing determines fetal abnormalities.
- Percutaneous blood draws – This is a blood test of a fetus while in the womb for the purpose of diagnosing certain fetal conditions.
- Cesarean section – If lesions are present in the genital area and/or if a pregnant woman recently experienced an active outbreak of genital herpes, it’s likely that a doctor will order a cesarean section to avoid vaginal transmission of HSV. It is important to consider that a cesarean section does not guarantee that your child will not be infected with HSV and hence, your child should be tested at birth to be sure.
- Lesion sampling – If active lesions are present, a doctor should conduct sampling to determine if viral shedding has occurred. If no viral shedding has occurred, a vaginal delivery may still be possible.
- Anti-viral medication – Your doctor may prescribe these types of medication after 36 weeks of gestation. Studies indicate that these medications greatly reduce the recurrence rate of genital herpes as well as the necessity for a cesarean section.
There are also a number of precautions a mother can be taken to prevent encephalitis, some of which are as follows:
- Avoid areas where the rate of encephalitis infection is high
- Get vaccinated – and have children vaccinated – for the measles, mumps, rubella and other viruses that may lead to encephalitis
- Practice good hygiene to avoid transmission from others
- Cover up or use insect repellant when in areas where mosquitoes and ticks are prevalent
- Avoid areas where standing water is present
- Speak to your doctor if you are pregnant and have a history of HSV infection
- Educate your children about practicing good hygiene habits
- Educate your children about avoiding mosquito and tick bites
- Never share utensils, food or beverages with others
Stern Law, PLLC has been at the forefront of fighting for children’s rights for more than three decades. To find out how our extensive experience in birth injury litigation can help you, please call (800) 462-5772 for a free case review.