Definition and Overview
Infectious neurology is an emerging subspecialty of neurology. It focuses on:
- Determining the different types of pathogens including viruses, bacteria and parasites that can directly or indirectly affect the nervous system, particularly the brain
- Treating diseases through available methods
- Managing diseases as well as its symptoms
- Providing complete patient care during recovery period or when the disease has affected the patient’s routine and function
- Preventing the spread of the disease (e.g., travel or epidemic)
In certain instances, an infectious neurologist may be asked to collaborate in researches, such as spotting potential pathogenic trends or patterns.
Infectious diseases that can affect the nervous system can be classified as either chronic or acute. It is chronic when the disease is progressive or takes a long time to fully develop such as those with incubation period. Meanwhile, it is considered acute when it occurs almost suddenly with a very limited period between exposure and the manifestation of symptoms.
Different pathogens can cause neurological infectious illnesses. For example, meningitis, which is characterized by the inflammation of the meninges or the membranes of the spinal cord and the brain, can be caused by either bacteria or virus. Knowing the actual cause is significantly important as the treatment will be formulated around it.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
An infectious neurology consultation is recommended when:
People are traveling to tropical countries – Although infectious diseases can happen anywhere, they are mostly prevalent in tropical regions for many reasons. One, the climate makes it more suitable for possible carriers like mosquitoes to breed and thrive. Second, there is a very finite health care resource that the spread and control of the disease is lenient or lacking. In the consultation, the neurologist can educate the traveler on the risks and preventative measures, as well as provide pre-exposure vaccinations.
Individuals have a compromised immune system – People who have weak immune systems such as those with HIV/AIDS, seniors and children belong to the high-risk group since their bodies are not fully capable to fight infection or develop antibodies against threats. Some diseases can also have an effect on the nervous system such as HIV, where some studies suggest it can lead to dementia.
There is a growing epidemic – Infections to the nervous system can affect even the healthiest people, more so when there is an epidemic pattern, wherein the disease spread so quickly and widely that an average person may not have the right and enough means to protect himself against it.
The patient is showing signs and symptoms of a neurological infection – These signs and symptoms normally include headaches, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, fever, fatigue, disorientation, or problem of the nerves, such as paralysis.
How Does the Procedure Work?
Patients who are showing symptoms that affect the brain, nerves, or the spinal cord are typically referred by their primary doctor or general practitioner to a neurologist who specialises in infectious diseases. In certain cases, the patient is referred even without the presence of the symptoms such as when he is about to travel where infectious diseases are prevalent.
During the consultation, the neurologist is expected to:
- Assess the infection or its possibility by understanding the patient’s medical record, exposure to the threat, age, overall health condition, the presence of preexisting conditions, family history and lifestyle.
- Recommend the best course of treatment, which may include hospitalisation, medications such an anti-viral or antibacterial drugs and complementary therapies like a regular fluid intake or proper diet.
- Make a referral to other specialists such as physical or occupational therapists if the infection has caused paralysis
- Recommend follow-up care to monitor the patient’s complete recovery or restoration of body function
- Monitor the physiological and mental effects of the condition and treat or manage them accordingly
Possible Risks and Complications
The disease can be so serious and life threatening that going through consultations may prove to be futile, only delaying the implementation of treatment. By then, there is the likelihood that the physical and mental damage is already irreparable. On the other hand, individuals who perceive themselves as healthy may choose not to go through the consultations, believing they are a waste of time and money.
- Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2009:chap 25.