Precursors to Encephalitis Deaths Discovered
Death from encephalitis may be predictable and preventable
or severe swelling in the brain -- regardless of the cause of their illness. These conditions are potentially reversible and patients are more likely to survive if physicians treat them aggressively at the first sign of trouble. "The factors most associated with death in these patients are things that we know how to treat," says Venkatesan, leader of the study published in the journal Neurology (Aug. 27 issue).
Venkatesan, director of the Johns Hopkins Encephalitis Center, also says, "Encephalitis is really a syndrome with many potential causes, rather than a single disease, making it difficult to study." In 50 percent of cases, a precise cause remains unknown. It may be caused by autoimmune disease, bacteria or a virus but in most cases its origins and progress is unpredictable. The symptoms of encephalitis are wide ranging, from severe weakness or language disability, fever, headache and confusion in some, to seizures in others. The more severe cases can land patients on ventilators in intensive care units for months.
Venkatesan and his team reviewed records of 487 patients with acute encephalitis between January 1997 and July 2011. The researchers focused their attention on the 103 of these patients over the age of 16 who spent at least 48 hours in the ICU. Of the patients 19 had died. Those patients with continuous seizures were eight times more likely to die and those with severe brain swelling were 18 times more likely to die. The patients with low counts in the cells responsible for clotting, blood platelets, were more than six times more likely to die.
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