If left untreated, encephalitis can be an extremely serious condition 

For many people, travelling is an exciting and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity full of adventure and possibility. However, there are also risks involved in travelling to exotic locations. If you fail to look after your health abroad, it could negatively impact not just your holiday, but also your health in the long term.

One such risk to health is encephalitis which, if left untreated, can be severe or even fatal. It can impact your central nervous system, with potentially disastrous consequences. Encephalitis affects approximately 4,000 people in the UK each year, so make sure you understand the risks involved with this condition before you travel.


What is encephalitis?

Encephalitis is defined by a swelling on the brain, usually caused by an infection or virus. In the case of tick-borne and Japanese encephalitis, this virus is spread via a bite from an infected tick or mosquito. It can also be caused via the herpes simplex virus, the measles virus, the varicella virus and the rubella virus among other.

Certain viruses have the capability to access the central nervous system (i.e. the brain and spine) by passing the blood barrier that usually filters the blood and fights harmful particles. In some cases, becoming infected with one of these viruses leads to encephalitis.


What effect does it have on your brain?

The symptoms of encephalitis will usually begin as flu-like signs, such as a headache, a fever and generally just feeling unwell. These symptoms tend to develop over a few hours or a day. This can then develop into nausea, vomiting and a lack of mobility due to stiffness in the neck.

However, over time the condition can become more serious, having a more significant impact on the brain. Certain strains of encephalitis can affect the frontal lobes, which are responsible for controlling emotions and behaviour. The condition can cause symptoms such as memory problems, drowsiness and confusion, and as such patients of the infection may experience blackouts.

Encephalitis can also impact the brain in other ways, causing speech problems, a lack of co-ordination, uncharacteristic behaviour and even personality changes. It may also lead to epilepsy and, in severe cases, can cause comas.


Where are the risk areas for encephalitis?

The range of different viruses which can cause encephalitis means that it can be contracted in many different areas. In the case of some viruses — such as herpes simplex — this includes the UK.

Travellers should primarily be aware of two kinds of encephalitis: tick-borne encephalitis and Japanese encephalitis. These are most common in areas outside the UK.

Tick-borne encephalitis is most often found in ticks located across much of Central, Eastern and Northern Europe, including Austria, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Anyone planning on travelling to these areas should be wary of the condition.

Japanese encephalitis is, as the name suggests, commonly found in the Far East. Risk areas include China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Laos, Philippines, India, Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Indonesia. It is most common after monsoon season.


How to prevent encephalitis

Taking precautionary steps against tick and mosquito bites will help to lower your chances of contracting encephalitis. These include wearing loose-fitting long sleeves, avoiding being outside during the cooler hours of the day, checking for bites and ticks regularly and making use of insect repellents and mosquito nets.

The best way to significantly lower your risk of encephalitis is to get vaccinated before you travel. The vaccinations for both tick-borne encephalitis and Japanese encephalitis are available from Express Travel Clinic.

If you’re planning on travelling further afield in 2019, make sure you receive the necessary vaccinations in order to stay happy and healthy while abroad. Book an appointment with Express Travel Clinic today by clicking here, or by calling 0208 993 5889.