DefinitionEncephalitis is inflammation of the brain. The inflammation may involve the whole brain or just parts of the brain. Encephalitis may just occur in individuals (sporadic) or may affect many people in a particular area (epidemic).
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CausesEncephalitis is most often caused by a viral infection. In the United States, the most common cause of sporadic encephalitis is the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Epidemic causes of encephalitis are usually mosquito- or tick-borne viruses. The most common viruses that cause encephalitis include:
- Viruses carried by mosquitoes such as West Nile or Eastern equine encephalitis
- Herpes simplex virus (HSV)
- Chickenpox virus
- Influenza virus
- Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)
- Polio virus
- Measles virus
- Mumps virus
Risk FactorsFactors that may increase your chance of encephalitis include:
- Living, working, or playing in an area where mosquito- or tick-borne viruses are common.
- Not being immunized against diseases, such as:
- A suppressed immune system caused by certain medications, or health conditions, such as HIV infection
- Having cancer—sometimes immune system overactivity may be the first sign of cancer
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