Arousing on one chilly Friday morning sensing feverish and with a throbbing headache, Saima Herz believed she was succumbing to flu.
She visited her GP on the way home from work as a nursery manager and was informed she’d picked up a virus. The 30-year-old was told to take paracetamol, and she spent the weekend curled up on the sofa, drinking hot lemon, while her husband Mike made soup.
But, days later, this otherwise fit and a healthy young woman died. The reason for her death on December 17 last year was encephalitis — inflammation of the brain. The several symptoms include headache, fever and, most prominently, confusion.
Saima’s widower, Mike, is now desperate to create awareness of the condition, which hits 6,000 people in the UK each year, alleging as many as 1,800 lives. For Mike, the loss of the woman he had married just 2 months before was very destructive.
Encephalitis is triggered by a viral infection attacking the brain, or the immune system attacking the brain in error. Any virus has the potential to create encephalitis since it can reach the brain through the bloodstream. More unusually, bacteria, fungi or tick bites can make it.
As Mike stumbled through the weeks that followed, friends visited in his home on a rota basis so that he was never alone. They chatted, drank, played golf, whatever they could do to relieve Mike’s deep shock.
However, as the months passed, bereft Mike tells that he realized he had to do more than exist. A month-long trip to Australia this summer with Saima’s mother, sisters, brother-in-law, and nephew to visit their family helped crystallize his thoughts.
And so Mike has organized Cycle For Saima in support of the Encephalitis Society charity. He will travel with a group of colleagues and family from Manchester to London amid April 24 and 26 next year to raise money for study into efficient treatments.
Many difficulties of encephalitis are totally unpredictable, but, because it is produced by a range of various viruses, there are certain circumstances in which risk can be overcome, reports Professor Tom Solomon, of the Encephalitis Society, and a consultant neurologist at Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust.
‘For example, the measles virus is a significant cause of brain infection, and this is why it is so tragic that people are not getting vaccinated. Encephalitis can also be produced by some mosquito-borne viruses — in Asia, Japanese encephalitis produces about 70,000 cases a year. Again this is preventable with vaccination.’