According to a story from azfamily.com, Reyna Felix, age 28, was at work as a 911 dispatcher when her coworkers said that she started behaving strangely. Around midnight, she fell from her chair and had a seizure; she was rushed to the hospital. Little did she know how chaotic the next three weeks of her life would be. Unfortunately, that’s how long it took for her to get a correct diagnosis of encephalitis.
Encephalitis is a rare condition in which the brain becomes inflamed. The severity of the condition can vary substantially. Viral infection is the most common cause of encephalitis, but it can also be triggered by bacterial infections, certain medications, and can even be autoimmune. In children, symptoms include reduced appetite, irritable behavior, and fever. Adults also experience fever as well as confusion, seizures, and headaches. More severe complications such as hearing loss, memory loss, and trouble speaking may also appear. Severe cases may last for several months. Treatment of encephalitis depends on the cause; when viruses or bacteria are responsible, antiviral or antibiotic drugs are standard. Steroids, acetaminophen, and sedatives may also be used. Physical and occupational therapy may be necessary if the brain is affected following the disease event. To learn more about encephalitis, click here.
Despite receiving an MRI and undergoing several other tests, Reyna left the hospital that night without a diagnosis. The next 24 hours saw her behavior become even more unusual and she suffered two more seizures. The doctors and nurses entrusted to her care didn’t know what was happening. One doctor suggested schizophrenia; a nurse guessed it was COVID-19. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis is a common issue for people living with rare diseases.
“Again, it just seemed like no one knew what was going on.” – Reyna
After suffering a total of six seizures, she was officially diagnosed after being transferred to the Barrow Neurological Institute.
“It can be misdiagnosed in its early stages,” said Dr. Ram Narayan, a neurologist at the Institute. Nevertheless, there are early warning signs that can point to encephalitis, which can include lack of alertness and changes in behavior, such as hallucinations or irritability. Identifying the cause and seeking prompt treatment can be vital to avoid death or serious complications.