infectious disease


What is Encephalitis and Can You Spot It?

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The answer is, probably not! The tricky thing about the rare and serious condition encephalitis, in which the brain swells, is that it can look a lot like the flu [1]. It is more likely to affect the very young or very old, however, anyone can be affected. [1] Symptoms may look like the flu but do not always—if confusion or disorientation, personality or behaviour changes, difficulty speaking, muscle weakness or inability to move in some parts of the body, seizures or loss of consciousness occur, especially in the presence of flu-like symptoms, medical attention should be sought immediately. [1] Encephalitis might be caused by viruses, like herpes simplex or chicken pox, and more rarely, bacterial or fungal infections. An immune reaction in which the immune system attacks the brain causing it to become inflamed may also be the cause of encephalitis—or, the cause may not be able to be determined. [1] Encephalitis is NOT contagious, though in some areas, it may be preventable by keeping vaccines up to date including the MMR vaccine, and other travel-specific vaccines including the rabies vaccine when in areas with limited medical care access, the Japanese encephalitis vaccine for travellers visiting at-risk parts of Asia, the tick-borne encephalitis vaccine for travel in some parts of Europe (outside the UK). [1]
Encephalitis is treated similarly to many severe infections: antiviral medications, steroids to reduce swelling, immune system treatments if this is deemed to be the cause of the swelling, pain or fever reducers, seizure medications, antibiotics and anti-fungal medications, and respiratory support just as in severe flu cases, which may include need for a ventilator or oxygen [1]. Treatment depends on the severity and type of infection, and can range from days to weeks. [1] Even after the encephalitis has been treated, the symptoms may not completely go away. Some people may, with work, make a full recovery, but others may never completely recover. Some after-effects or complications of encephalitis include memory problems, personality and behavioural changes, executive function issues including issues with attention, concentration, problem solving and planning, seizures, and ongoing fatigue [1].
Most people do not know what encephalitis is, or do not know what it is until a family member or friend becomes affected. February 22 is World Encephalitis Day—and a reminder if “flu like symptoms” seem like they are too much to handle, it is time to visit A&E or call for an ambulance—it is best to be on the safe side, or receive treatment as early as possible. Those living with after-effects of encephalitis should consider wearing medical ID, especially if they experience memory loss, confusion, or seizures, for peace of mind.

Wait–that still exists? World Leprosy Day 29 January 2017

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If you are surprised to read that we still need World Leprosy Day to bring awareness of Leprosy worldwide, you are not alone. The common thought is that Leprosy is not a disease that is present in the modern world: but it is. There are 210,000 new cases of leprosy diagnosed each year. [1] As leprosy is curable, in effort to eradicate this disease, the World Health Organization provides multidrug treatment for the bacterial infection causing symptoms of leprosy for free to people worldwide. [2] These two or three drugs given in combination kill all the bacteria that cause the leprosy infection, and cure the individual—leprosy is not highly contagious, but it can be passed from person to person through fluids spread by the nose and mouth with frequent close contact. [1] Symptoms can take as long as 20 years to become evident. If allowed to progress, leprosy can cause problems with the skin, nerves to the arms and legs, certain cells of the upper respiratory tract (sinuses, nose, etc.)—eventually, these symptoms can become fatal if untreated.  [2]
The good news is, from 1983 to 2014, Leprosy infection rates have dropped 99% (huge!). Access to multi drug treatment began in 1991, and so far, it remains effective and the bacteria have not become resistant to the antibiotics given. [2]
Do we have to worry about Leprosy in the UK?
About a dozen cases of leprosy are diagnosed in the UK each year. [3] The Leprosy Mission of England and Wales notes that the “last indigenous” (acquired in the UK) case of leprosy was diagnosed in 1798–219 years ago. [3] This means that new leprosy cases diagnosed in the UK are most likely acquired abroad. A UK couple originally from Zimbabwe (another place where leprosy is extremely rare, as it is in the UK) shared their story in 2014. Both were unexpectedly diagnosed with leprosy, and want to decrease the stigma of the infection. 
If you are traveling to places where leprosy is not technically eradicated, you may have cause to be slightly concerned. However, because the condition is treatable and repeated contact must be made to contract the bacteria that causes leprosy, there is likely not a lot of cause to be alarmed for most people.
Lepra UK’s slogan is “Fighting disease, poverty and prejudice”, and they are a leading authority on leprosy awareness in the UK. You can learn more about their work this World Leprosy Day. Sometimes, a conversation is all that is needed to raise awareness: if you live with a chronic medical condition, a medical ID bracelet can be part of that story telling journey for you to spread awareness of the condition you live with.
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