What is the initial emergency department (ED) care for encephalitis?

Updated: Aug 07, 2018
  • Author: David S Howes, MD; Chief Editor: Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP  more...
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With the important exceptions of HSE and varicella-zoster encephalitis, the viral encephalitides are not treatable beyond supportive care. Treatments for T gondii and cytomegalovirus (CMV) encephalitis are available but generally not initiated in the ED.

The goal of treatment for acutely ill patients is administration of the first dose or doses of acyclovir, with or without antibiotics or steroids, as quickly as possible. The standard for acute bacterial meningitis is the initiation of treatment within 30 minutes of arrival. Consider instituting an ED triage protocol to identify patients at risk for HSE.

Collect laboratory samples and blood cultures before the start of IV therapy. Even in uncomplicated cases of encephalitis, most authorities recommend a neuroimaging study (eg, magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] or, if that is not available, a contrast-enhanced head computed tomography [CT] scan) before lumbar puncture (LP).

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