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NINDS Encephalitis Lethargica Information Page

Synonym(s):   Von Economo’s Disease, Sleeping Sickness

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What is Encephalitis Lethargica?

Encephalitis lethargica is a disease characterized by high fever, headache, double vision, delayed physical and mental response, and lethargy. In acute cases, patients may enter coma. Patients may also experience abnormal eye movements, upper body weakness, muscular pains, tremors, neck rigidity, and behavioral changes including psychosis. The cause of encephalitis lethargica is unknown. Between 1917 to 1928, an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica spread throughout the world, but no recurrence of the epidemic has since been reported. Postencephalitic Parkinson's disease may develop after a bout of encephalitis-sometimes as long as a year after the illness.

Is there any treatment?

Treatment for encephalitis lethargica is symptomatic. Levodopa and other antiparkinson drugs often produce dramatic responses.

What is the prognosis?

The course of encephalitis lethargica varies depending upon complications or accompanying disorders.

What research is being done?

The NINDS supports research on disorders that affect the brain, such as encephalitis lethargica, with the goal of finding ways to prevent and treat them. (The disease was the subject of the book and film, "Awakenings.")

NIH Patient Recruitment for Encephalitis Lethargica Clinical Trials

Organizations

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National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT   06810
orphan@rarediseases.org
http://www.rarediseases.org
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

 


Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892



NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Last updated February 12, 2007