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World Encephalitis Day is taking place this year on 22 February. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain that affects up to 6000 people in the UK every year.
Tim Spring, Chair of the Trustees at the Encephalitis Society and Head of Health Care and Clinical Negligence at Moore Blatch, urges greater awareness of the complexity and severity of encephalitis. He looks back on the progress made by the Encephalitis Society and calls upon medical professionals to place encephalitis firmly on the clinical radar by taking part in World Encephalitis Day.
Encephalitis is arguably one of the most complex, and least understood, medical conditions that healthcare professionals encounter. Today, on World Encephalitis Day 2019, we want to shine a light on the condition, and celebrate the hard work of the individuals and organisations working to support those living with its effects.
Some readers may be aware that encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, which affects up to 6,000 people in the UK every year. If left undiagnosed or untreated, even for as little as a day, encephalitis can cause sufferers to develop severe brain injuries that can have life-changing implications.
Due to its wide range of causes, encephalitis is a particularly complex condition and there is unfortunately no ‘silver bullet’ when it comes to encephalitis treatment. Encephalitis can be caused by a variety of viral infections – most prominently the herpes simplex virus – or by an auto-immune disorder that causes the immune system to erroneously attack the brain. Key to ensuring the best possible recovery is recognising which cause is responsible for encephalitis and responding appropriately. Increased awareness of the complexity, and potential severity, of encephalitis is therefore needed amongst medical professionals to ensure that accurate diagnoses are made and the relevant treatment provided in good time, before the condition is allowed to develop to the point of serious brain injury.
In my role as the Head of Healthcare and Clinical Negligence at Moore Blatch Solicitors, I have worked with my team on multiple cases in which clients have suffered the life-altering effects of encephalitis as a consequence of a failure to promptly diagnose and provide effective treatment. In some cases, even a delay of under 24 hours can make all the difference between recovery and life-long dependence on the support of carers.
The Work of the Encephalitis Society, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year, has proven transformational in providing the exposure and support that practitioners and sufferers require; from fundraising to producing clinical care guidelines, to supporting individuals and their families living with the impact of the condition.
Founded in 1994 by a group of parents whose children had been affected by the condition, the Encephalitis Society has evolved from a small group of individuals to a world-leading organisation which works in partnership with other neurological charities and health organisations, at national and international level. The Society’s influence is felt across the globe, with over 80,000 unique users from 180 countries accessing the Encephalitis Society website for its high-quality information and support.
What makes the Society unique is its expert Scientific Advisory Panel consisting of world-class neuroscientific researchers and practitioners, which provides expert professional resources. In particular, the Encephalitis Society has supported the development of the Liverpool Algorithm, which consists of clinical care guidelines based around a simple algorithm, supported by an evidence base, whose implementation is hoped would improve the management of patients with suspected encephalitis. The most recent Encephalitis Society Scientific Conference, held in London in December 2018, welcomed more than 100 delegates from 13 countries.
With the support of the Advisory Panel, the Society has produced significant research which has looked into the various implications of encephalitis on both a clinical and social level. In 2008, for example, the Encephalitis Society partnered with researchers at the University of York to complete a research study into the after effects and social consequences of encephalitis, which was then published to professionals working in encephalitis care across the world. The Society’s research credentials are going from strength to strength, and they currently support 23 unique research studies underway around the world.
Of course, essential to the success of the Society is its conscientious team of global volunteers. The dedication of volunteers has helped the society to launch and promote World Encephalitis Day in 2014, which brings together people from all over the world to raise awareness of encephalitis and honour those living with the condition.
It is through this powerful combination of world-class research and dedicated volunteers that this regularly misunderstood and misdiagnosed condition is gradually gaining exposure, and more complex treatments are emerging to match the complexity of the virus.
By embracing new innovations and developing a clear understanding of the condition, medical professionals delivering best practice can help us ensure that no one suffers unnecessarily from this condition. The state of the art in this area is changing from year to year and the treatment of encephalitis is constantly improving, with new understanding and innovations allowing doctors to provide more successful care for patients.
Now is the time to place encephalitis on the clinical radar. While NHS patient outcomes are improving, it is nonetheless imperative that practitioners work to gain better understanding of the condition. The Encephalitis Society has resources to support medical and legal professionals, volunteers and of course those affected by encephalitis. Indeed, the best way to get involved is by taking part in the various awareness and fundraising initiatives offered on World Encephalitis Day, which is the opportune moment for medical practitioners and volunteers in the local community to come together as part of this global movement.