Opinion

World Encephalitis Day: Learn more about the neurological condition

On World Encephalitis Day, lead nurse for acute and emergency clinical research Claire Matata discusses why nurses need a better understanding of encephalitis and to treat it as a neurological emergency. 

On World Encephalitis Day, lead nurse for acute and emergency clinical research Claire Matata discusses why nurses need a better understanding of encephalitis and to treat it as a neurological emergency

I have spent the last five years of my nursing career contributing to, caring for, and supporting patients affected by encephalitis. Not only this, I have also spent those years researching the condition and the nursing care required to give these patients the best outcomes. During this time I have learned an incredible amount about the condition, which has made me realise just how little I knew about encephalitis beforehand.

I am even happy to admit that before taking up a role in 2012 as a specialist research nurse with the Liverpool Brain Infections Group, I didn’t even know what encephalitis was. I’m brave enough to admit this because I know that I am certainly not alone. There will still be many other nurses in the same position.

I was never educated about encephalitis during my time as a nursing student, and until 2012 I had never cared for a patient affected by the condition. It therefore goes without saying that I was not aware of the need for urgent diagnosis and treatment, the high mortality rate of the condition, and for those who do survive, the devastating consequences the disease can have, not only on their quality of life, but on the lives of their loved ones.

Neurological emergency

As registered nurses, we are all aware of the need for fast recognition and treatment for patients experiencing a suspected stroke. The same principle applies to patients who have suspected encephalitis.

Encephalitis is a neurological emergency. As healthcare professionals, we are faced with a race against time to get these patients on presumptive treatment and to obtain as early a diagnosis as possible. Our ability to recognise potential cases of encephalitis directly affects not only patients’ chances of long-term recovery, but also their chances of survival.

‘As healthcare professionals, we are faced with a race against time to get these patients on presumptive treatment and to obtain as early a diagnosis as possible’

Claire Matata

As nurses, we play a key role in caring for patients affected by encephalitis and supporting their families.

It is important that we have at least a basic understanding of what the condition is and its common presentations.

Where we suspect the possibility of a patient having the condition we must communicate this, with some urgency, to our medical colleagues.

There is some interesting and important research taking place on the medical care of patients affected by encephalitis. For example, the Liverpool Brain Infections Group has a portfolio of studies, including those on the presentations and outcomes of patients with encephalitis. It is also running a clinical trial on the use of dexamethasone in patients with Herpes Simplex encephalitis.

However, as part of my work with the Liverpool Brain Infections group, and with funding from the National Institute for Health Research Masters Studentship, I have completed a research study, looking at the challenges of providing nursing care for patients affected by encephalitis. This study found that nurses lacked the time and knowledge of the condition to provide the proper care that these patients needed. There was also a lack of rehabilitation for patients affected by encephalitis.

I therefore urge all readers to make use of the resources on encephalitis, provided as part of this important feature for World Encephalitis Day, and to use them to inform your practice and those of your colleagues.

The Encephalitis Society can provide training for health, education and social care professionals on the topic of encephalitis, acquired brain injury and outcomes for those affected and their families.

The Society has a full range of information for professionals, and offers free professional membership. Contact mail@encephalitis.info for further information.

 


Claire Matata is the lead nurse for acute and emergency clinical research, Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital

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