Emerging infectious encephalitides

Arun Venkatesan
Current Opinion in Neurology 2021 March 23

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: The COVID-19 pandemic has cast increased attention on emerging infections. Clinicians and public health experts should be aware of emerging infectious causes of encephalitis, mechanisms by which they are transmitted, and clinical manifestations of disease.

RECENT FINDINGS: A number of arthropod-borne viral infections -- transmitted chiefly by mosquitoes and ticks -- have emerged in recent years to cause outbreaks of encephalitis. Examples include Powassan virus in North America, Chikungunya virus in Central and South America, and tick-borne encephalitis virus in Europe. Many of these viruses exhibit complex life cycles and can infect multiple host animals in addition to humans. Factors thought to influence emergence of these diseases, including changes in climate and land use, are also believed to underlie the emergence of the rickettsial bacterium Orientia tsutsugamushi, now recognized as a major causative agent of acute encephalitis syndrome in South Asia. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the role of bats as carriers of viruses. Recent studies have begun to uncover mechanisms by which the immune systems of bats are poised to allow for viral tolerance. Several bat-borne infections, including Nipah virus and Ebola virus, have resulted in recent outbreaks of encephalitis.

SUMMARY: Infectious causes of encephalitis continue to emerge worldwide, in part because of climate change and human impacts on the environment. Expansion of surveillance measures will be critical in rapid diagnosis and limiting of outbreaks in the future.

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