By Dr. Yeshwanth Paidimarri, Neurology
Neuroinfections affect the nervous system spread across the spinal cord, the brain, the nerves, and the muscles. There is a wide range of neuro-infections and it includes:
1. Infection of the Brain-
If the membrane surrounding the brain called as meninges gets infected by bacteria or virus, it may precipitate meningitis, in such cases, the infection may spread to internal parts of the brain called as encephalitis, together it is called as meningoencephalitis. Such infection may be fatal, which needs immediate intervention. Patients present with fever, altered behavior, drowsiness, coma, seizures, neck stiffness and paralysis of limbs. For these patients, spinal fluid is removed and sent for the analysis, based on the reports type of the infection like bacterial, viral, fungal, tuberculosis or HIV can be made out along with the intensity of the infection. Based on the spinal fluid reports, treatment will be planned accordingly in the form of antibiotics, antitubercular, antiviral or antifungal over a period of days to months based on the cause. Although there are treatments like antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsive, and other therapies, a cure for neuroinfections is yet to achieve. In fact, except herpes and HIV, there are no therapies for viral or other infections of the central nervous system.
2. Infection of the Spinal Cord-
If the membranes or vertebral bones surrounding the spinal cord gets infected by, it may lead to meningitis which may be fatal as well. Evaluated and treated in a similar way as meningoencephalitis based on the cause.
3. HIV-associated Neurodegeneration-
HIV infection destroys the immune system in the body which leads to reduced immunity to other diseases, because of which patient get multiple infections, may induce degeneration of neurological health and may lead to any type of dementia.
4. Transverse Myelitis-
Inflammation of the spinal cord is known as transverse myelitis. It can cause weakness, pain, sensory problems, paralysis, bladder dysfunction, bowel dysfunction, etc. Causes could be viral, bacterial, tuberculosis, autoimmune, sarcoidosis. Myelitis has to be evaluated with MRI scan and spinal fluid analysis and treated accordingly.
This infection is caused by tapeworm which is a parasite, eggs of the worm reach the brain through the blood and provoke seizures and confused behavior. Diagnosed with Mri scan and treated with antiparasitic and antiepileptics.
5. Epilepsy and Seizure-
Epilepsy and seizure are the results of central nervous system infections. Most of these infections are either fatal or debilitating. Though there are treatments, the disease needs to be diagnosed soon enough so that the doctor can start the treatment. However, treatment can hardly cure these diseases.
However, treatment is continuously evolving. That leaves us with an ominous situation where disability and fatality resulting from full blown neurological infections is nearly impossible to counter. But certainly, there are ways to prevent the occurrence of such infections.
Vaccination can be an effective tool in fighting and preventing infections of the central nervous system. In fact, there are already some neuroinfection vaccines under development. Some of them have exhibited promising results in clinical trials. These vaccines include those for Japanese Encephalitis, Yellow Fever, Tick-borne Encephalitis, Dengue, West Nile, Zika, Chikungunya, Encephalitic Equine Viruses, etc.
A healthy lifestyle can save people from infections of the neurological system, especially in later life. Intravenous drug use is one of the most prominent risk factors for central nervous system infections. Other risk factors include HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection, long-term use of steroids, suffering from diabetes mellitus, undergoing organ transplantation, suffering from malnutrition, cancer, etc.
Neuroinfections can be fatal and debilitating if timely intervention is not executed. However, one can prevent such infections by a change in lifestyle and having vaccinations. It is also advisable to consult a general physician or neurologist to know the best treatment available for them and what lifestyle changes will help them to deal with such infections.