Understanding Encephalitis as a Vaccine Injury

Encephalitis is an inflammatory condition that affects the brain. Among various other causes, encephalitis is known to result from certain vaccinations in an extremely small percentage of cases. Of course, while encephalitis as a vaccine injury may be rare, this fact does nothing to help those who are struggling with the effects of this life-altering—and in some cases life-threatening—condition. In this article, vaccine injury attorney Leah V. Durant discusses the link between encephalitis and vaccines and provides some important information about vaccine-related encephalitis claims under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).

The Link Between Encephalitis and Vaccines

As Johns Hopkins Medicine notes, “[i]nfectious encephalitis is typically caused by a viral infection.” This includes many of the viral infections that vaccines are designed to prevent—including measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chickenpox).

However, vaccines are also known to cause encephalitis in some cases. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Vaccine Injury Table provides a non-exclusive list of vaccine-related medical conditions that are eligible for compensation under the VICP. The Vaccine Injury Table lists encephalitis as a possible consequence of the following vaccines:

  • Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccines (DTaP, DTP, DT and Td)
  • Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines (MMR and MMRV)

To be classified as an “on table” injury under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, symptoms of encephalitis caused by a DTaP, DTP, DT or Td vaccine must onset within 72 hours of vaccine administration. For encephalitis caused by an MMR or MMRV vaccine, symptoms must onset no less than five and no more than 15 days following vaccination.

The footnotes to the Vaccine Injury Table further state that in order for encephalitis to be considered vaccine-related, a vaccine recipient must experience acute encephalitis resulting in chronic encephalopathy. This requires “evidence of neurologic dysfunction . . . plus evidence of an inflammatory process in the brain,” followed by a chronic encephalopathy diagnosis.

Under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, evidence of neurologic dysfunction indicative of vaccine-related encephalopathy may include:

  • Abnormal presence of primitive reflexes (i.e., Babinski’s sign or sucking reflex)
  • Cerebellar dysfunction (i.e., ataxia, dysmetria or nystagmus)
  • Cranial nerve abnormalities
  • Focal cortical signs (i.e., aphasia, alexia, agraphia or cortical blindness)
  • Visual field defects

Evidence of an inflammatory process in the brain may include:

  • Cerebrospinal fluid pleocytosis
  • Electroencephalogram findings consistent with encephalitis (i.e., diffuse or multifocal nonspecific background slowing)
  • Fever above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Neuroimaging findings consistent with encephalitis (i.e., diffuse or multifocal areas of hyperintense signal or fluid-attenuation inversion recovery sequences observed on an MRI scan)

The footnotes to the Vaccine Injury Table also list factors that indicate encephalitis is not a vaccine-related condition. These “exclusionary criteria” include:

  • “An underlying malignancy that led to a paraneoplastic encephalitis;”
  • “An infectious disease associated with encephalitis, including a bacterial, parasitic, fungal or viral illness . . . which may be demonstrated by clinical . . . symptoms and need not be confirmed by culture or serologic testing;”
  • “Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM);” or,
  • “Other conditions or abnormalities that would explain the vaccine recipient’s symptoms.”

Symptoms of Vaccine-Related Encephalitis

Vaccine-related encephalitis can cause a variety of different symptoms. Broadly speaking, these are similar to the symptoms of infectious encephalitis and encephalitis from other causes. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Stiffness in the neck

Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends seeking treatment for these symptoms even if they “may not seem troubling at the time.” The widely-respected healthcare provider goes on to state that, “[t]imely diagnosis and treatment are the keys to a successful recovery from encephalitis.”

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) classifies confusion and seizures as symptoms of severe encephalitis. It classifies the following as symptoms of severe encephalitis as well, and indicates that individuals who experience these symptoms should seek treatment immediately:

  • Drowsiness
  • Severe headache
  • Sudden fever
  • Vomiting

Infants who experience encephalitis as the result of a DTaP, DTP, DT, Td, MMR or MMRV vaccine may exhibit additional symptoms. According to NINDS, these symptoms may include, “constant crying, poor feeding, body stiffness, and bulging in the soft spots of the skull.”

Filing a VICP Claim for Encephalitis Caused By a Vaccine

Individuals who are diagnosed with encephalitis following a DTaP, DTP, DT, Td, MMR or MMRV vaccination may be entitled to financial compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Parents of children who are diagnosed with vaccine-related encephalitis can file VICP claims as well.

Here are some important facts about filing a VICP claim for encephalitis caused by a vaccine:

  • The VICP Provides Compensation on a “No-Fault” Basis – Filing a VICP claim does not require evidence of fault. This means that vaccine recipients and parents do not need to prove that there was an issue with the vaccine, nor do they need to prove that their healthcare provider or pharmacist made a mistake during vaccine administration.
  • The VICP Covers Medical Bills, Lost Wages, and Pain and Suffering – Under the VICP, vaccine recipients and parents can seek financial compensation for their medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Compensation for medical bills and lost wages are unlimited, while damages for pain and suffering are capped at $250,000.
  • The VICP Has a Three-Year Statute of Limitations for Non-Fatal Injuries – Vaccine recipients and parents have up to three years to file a VICP claim for non-fatal encephalitis. In cases involving death, eligible family members have up to two years from the date of death to file a claim.
  • The VICP Covers Claimants’ Legal Fees – Vaccine recipients and families can hire a vaccine injury attorney to represent them at no out-of-pocket cost. The VICP covers claimants’ legal fees, and these fees are not deducted from successful claimants’ compensation awards.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Vaccine Injury Attorney Leah V. Durant

If you need to know more about filing a claim for vaccine-related encephalitis under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, we invite you to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Please call 202-800-1711 or inquire online to request an appointment with vaccine injury attorney Leah V. Durant.

Leah Durant Bio

Experienced litigation attorney Leah Durant focuses on representing clients in complex vaccine litigation matters. Leah Durant is the owner and principal attorney of the Law Offices of Leah V. Durant, PLLC, a litigation firm based in Washington, DC. Leah Durant and her staff represent clients and their families who suffer from vaccine-related injuries, adverse vaccine reactions and vaccine-related deaths. The Law Offices of Leah V. Durant, PLLC is dedicated to assisting individuals in recovering the highest level of compensation as quickly and efficiently as possible. To learn more, contact vaccine attorney Leah Durant today.



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