Encephalitis and Brain Abscess

Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2021 Aug 1;27(4):855-886. doi: 10.1212/CON.0000000000001006.


Purpose of review: This article reviews infections of the brain parenchyma and includes an overview of the epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnostic approach, and management of infectious encephalitis and brain abscess.

Recent findings: The epidemiology of infectious encephalitis and brain abscess has changed in recent years. Vaccination has reduced the incidence of certain viruses associated with encephalitis, while a decrease in fulminant otogenic infections has led to fewer brain abscesses associated with otitis media. However, changes in climate and human population density and distribution have enabled the emergence of newer pathogens and expanded the geographic range of others, and greater adoption of intensive immunosuppressive regimens for autoimmune conditions has increased the risk of opportunistic infections of the brain. The widespread use of early neuroimaging, along with improved diagnostic methodologies for pathogen detection, newer antimicrobial therapies with better brain penetration, and less invasive neurosurgical techniques, has resulted in better outcomes for patients with infectious encephalitis and brain abscess. Novel technologies including metagenomic next-generation sequencing are increasingly being applied to these conditions in an effort to improve diagnosis. Nevertheless, both infectious encephalitis and brain abscess continue to be associated with substantial mortality.

Summary: Infectious encephalitis and brain abscess can present as neurologic emergencies and require rapid assessment, thorough and appropriate diagnostic testing, and early initiation of empiric therapies directed against infectious agents. Close clinical follow-up, proper interpretation of diagnostic results, and appropriate tailoring of therapeutic agents are essential to optimizing outcomes. Diagnosis and management of parenchymal brain infections are complex and often best achieved with a multidisciplinary care team involving neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists, infectious disease physicians, and pathologists.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Brain Abscess* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Abscess* / epidemiology
  • Encephalitis* / diagnosis
  • Encephalitis* / epidemiology
  • Encephalitis* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging
  • Neurosurgical Procedures