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Peter J Maida

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Herpesviral Encephalitis is Scary Stuff
by Peter J Maida   
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Last edited: Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Posted: Wednesday, July 01, 2009

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This is a story of my dear friend's personal struggle with one of the most severe viral infections of the central nervous system. Herpesviral Encephalitis can be mistaken for a mental disorder; please check carefully if a loved one starts acting our of the ordinary.

My dear friend Barb knows all to well what this virus can take from you.

Have you ever been at a loss for a word? Have you ever been in the middle of a sentence and just not have the next word? We’ll chuckle and call it a senior moment and move on. What if the moment never ends?

The brain is a wonderful and scary organ. Most of us have no idea how it works and maybe we don’t want to know how fragile it can be. It is well protected inside our skulls but any defense can be breached.

Herpesviral Encephalitis, also known as HSE comes from a herpes simplex virus. No not the sexually transmitted decease type, HSV-1 which is more related to cold sores. Here’s the real scary part. According to Wikipedia, if you have an HSV-1 type infection the virus can seem to go away be lie dormant in the ganglion, reactivate at a later date, and travel to your brain. What reactivates the virus and how it travels to the brain are not completely understood. It is considered one of the most severe viral infections of the central nervous system. A person may experience a reduction in the level of consciousness, confusion, and even a change in personality.

This is a story about my dear friend Barb. Barb is a very intelligent lady. She was a member of Mensa; she has a Masters Degree in philosophy from Duquesne, and Masters Degree in business and marketing from National University in San Diego, and a Bachelors degree in computer science from StrayerCollege. Barb’s husband John and I have been friends for 28 years and I met Barb at the same minute that John met her.

Barb explained to me the events of her attack. It was the observance of Martin Luther King’s birthday in 1998; Barb and John were enjoying an unrushed Monday morning so they took their time getting out of bed. Barb went in and made some coffee and hot chocolate. A few minutes later John asked about breakfast and Barb couldn’t answer; the words were simply not there.

John, being an extremely intelligent fellow in his own right, instantly started asking her basic questions about who she was and where she was. When John couldn’t get an answer from her, he immediately called the doctor. The doctor feared a stroke and told John to get her right to the hospital. Although I am describing a terrible experience, Barb was lucky in many ways. This Monday happened to be a holiday. If it wasn’t, Barb could have had the attack while she was driving to work or all alone at her desk in work. She also was lucky, and this is how she expressed it, that she had a caring an attentive husband by her side to get her to the doctor quickly. She said she remembered John helping her get dressed and she remembered wondering what she was supposed to do with the socks that were in her hand.

They got to the hospital quickly; here’s where Barb’s luck continued. After examinations ruled out a stroke the hunt was on for the cause of Barb’s symptoms. The attending physician suspected HSE and took a chance. He told John and Barb that he could start Barb on drugs to treat HSE before the tests were complete. He said that the drugs carried no risk if the test results showed no HSE. John agreed; at that point Barb was beyond understanding. It was fortunate that the drugs were started because there were delays in testing that would have had treatment starting far later. Barb’s next stroke of luck was the MRI. In some cases the doctors have to study an MRI very closely to find a problem; this one jumped right out at them. The speedy treatment greatly improved her chances for recovery.

John would tell Barb what was going on. Barb said she remembers that if someone would have told her that John was her husband she would not have had any idea what the word husband meant. However, something deep inside her told her she could trust this man.

The final diagnoses came in and it was Herpes Simplex Virus Encephalitis. Barb would require extensive physical, occupational, and speech therapy. She says she remembers having to go back to the beginning. She remembers writing, I hav a bal, and being convinced that she wrote it correctly. She had to work with children’s wooden blocks and recalls being frustrated trying to put a rectangular block in a square hole.

Because of the strokes of luck and the intensive therapy, she had during this nightmare; Barb was able to recover with amazing speed. Three and a half months later she felt well enough to return to work in a limited capacity, but her challenges weren’t over. There was another attack but it was quickly recognized and Barb fought back quickly. She is still at a loss for a word now and then but her intellect is sound and I have my dear friend back.

Barb was very lucky. HSE is a very dangerous decease. A quick diagnosis is not always possible. If a loved one suddenly becomes confused or begins acting out of the ordinary, don’t just wonder what’s gotten into them. Start asking basic questions and be ready to get them to a hospital. This virus strikes the central nervous system in just 1 in 500,000 people each year which puts it is under the radar for standard diagnosis. It is one of those aliments that can be mistaken for a mental condition until it is too late for proper treatment.

Web Site: Herpesviral Encephalitis is Scary Stuff

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