Treatment

Treatment for mild encephalitis usually consists of:

  • Bed rest
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs — such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) — to relieve headaches and fever

Antiviral drugs

Encephalitis caused by certain viruses usually requires antiviral treatment.

Antiviral medications commonly used to treat encephalitis include:

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • Ganciclovir (Cytovene)
  • Foscarnet (Foscavir)

Some viruses, such as insect-borne viruses, don't respond to these treatments. But because the specific virus may not be identified immediately or at all, doctors often recommend immediate treatment with acyclovir. Acyclovir can be effective against HSV, which can result in significant complications when not treated promptly.

Antiviral medications are generally well-tolerated. Rarely, side effects can include kidney damage.

Supportive care

People who are hospitalized with severe encephalitis might need:

  • Breathing assistance, as well as careful monitoring of breathing and heart function
  • Intravenous fluids to ensure proper hydration and levels of essential minerals
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as corticosteroids, to reduce swelling and pressure within the skull
  • Anticonvulsant medications, such as phenytoin (Dilantin), to stop or prevent seizures

Follow-up therapy

If you experience complications of encephalitis, you might need additional therapy, such as:

  • Physical therapy to improve strength, flexibility, balance, motor coordination and mobility
  • Occupational therapy to develop everyday skills and to use adaptive products that help with everyday activities
  • Speech therapy to relearn muscle control and coordination to produce speech
  • Psychotherapy to learn coping strategies and new behavioral skills to improve mood disorders or address personality changes