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Anyone can get encephalitis at any age and at any time. Encephalitis tends to be more prevalent in the very old or the very young because their immune systems are relatively weak. Aside from those at risk of picking up an infection (whether on a hospital ward or care home or post operatively) encephalitis can also be a consequence of a ‘common illness’ being misdiagnosed or untreated.
The symptoms of encephalitis and meningitis are very similar and before swelling becomes obvious one can often be mistakenly diagnosed for the other. The tell-tale signs of encephalitis in the early stages are sudden fever, severe headaches, seizures, stupor or coma.
In more severe cases, neurological symptoms may include problems with speech or hearing, double vision, hallucinations, personality changes, loss of consciousness, loss of sensation in some parts of the body, muscle weakness, partial paralysis in the arms and legs, sudden severe dementia, impaired judgment, seizures and memory loss.
Symptoms of encephalitis to watch for in an infant include vomiting, body stiffness or constant crying that may become worse when the child is picked up. These symptoms may be seen before the more obvious sign of a bulging fontanel (the soft spot on the top of the infant’s head) becomes apparent.