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26: Nervous System Infections

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    Few diseases inspire the kind of fear that rabies does. The name is derived from the Latin word for “madness” or “fury,” most likely because animals infected with rabies may behave with uncharacteristic rage and aggression. And while the thought of being attacked by a rabid animal is terrifying enough, the disease itself is even more frightful. Once symptoms appear, the disease is almost always fatal, even when treated.

    Photo of a snarling dog.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): This dog is exhibiting the restlessness and aggression associated with rabies, a neurological disease that frequently affects mammals and can be transmitted to humans. (credit: modification of work by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

    Rabies is an example of a neurological disease caused by an acellular pathogen. The rabies virus enters nervous tissue shortly after transmission and makes its way to the central nervous system, where its presence leads to changes in behavior and motor function. Well-known symptoms associated with rabid animals include foaming at the mouth, hydrophobia (fear of water), and unusually aggressive behavior. Rabies claims tens of thousands of human lives worldwide, mainly in Africa and Asia. Most human cases result from dog bites, although many mammal species can become infected and transmit the disease. Human infection rates are low in the United States and many other countries as a result of control measures in animal populations. However, rabies is not the only disease with serious or fatal neurological effects. In this chapter, we examine the important microbial diseases of the nervous system.

    • 26.1: Anatomy of the Nervous System
      The human nervous system can be divided into two interacting subsystems: the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system is an extensive network of nerves connecting the CNS to the muscles and sensory structures.
    • 26.2: Bacterial Diseases of the Nervous System
      Bacterial infections that affect the nervous system are serious and can be life-threatening. Fortunately, there are only a few bacterial species commonly associated with neurological infections.
    • 26.3: Acellular Pathogenic Diseases of the Nervous System
      A number of different viruses and subviral particles can cause diseases that affect the nervous system. Viral diseases tend to be more common than bacterial infections of the nervous system today. Fortunately, viral infections are generally milder than their bacterial counterparts and often spontaneously resolve. Some of the more important acellular pathogens of the nervous system are described in this section.
    • 26.4: Neuromycoses and Parasitic Diseases of the Nervous System
      Fungal infections of the nervous system, called neuromycoses, are rare in healthy individuals. However, neuromycoses can be devastating in immunocompromised or elderly patients. Several eukaryotic parasites are also capable of infecting the nervous system of human hosts. Although relatively uncommon, these infections can also be life-threatening in immunocompromised individuals. In this section, we will first discuss neuromycoses, followed by parasitic infections of the nervous system.
    • 26.E: Nervous System Infections (Exercises)

    Thumbnail: Sir Charles Bell’s portrait of a soldier dying of tetanus.

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