Encephalitis Lethargica


First Case


The soldier arrives at a neuropsychiatric clinic in Paris with strange symptoms. Soon there were 64 similar cases at the clinic but no diagnosis.

Battle of Verdun


Where an unknown soldier was injured in battle and began a journey to a clinic in Paris.

First non-soldier is hit

January 1917

In Vienna, Austria at the Wagner-Jauregg Clinic came the first patient to show these straneg sleepy symptoms that was not a soldier. Similar cases followed.

Encephalitis Lethargica

April 17 1917

Dr Constantin von Economo in Vienna, Austria announced and published a paper stating he he discovered what this mysterious disease was. The name litterally means "a swelling of the brain that makes one sleepy."

Begininng of an Epidemic


As English soldiers moved back home from France the disease moved with them. There were over 500 cases in 1918.


February 1919

35 year old woman, 7 months pregnant seen by Dr E. Buzzard for arm pain. After a few days she was semiconscious but constantly twitching. While semiconscious she miscarried.



Philip was admitted to a mental institution in England after being diagnosed with encephalitis lethargica as a boy. He got sick with the flu and though he could not move he was aware of everything around him. He fell into such a deep sleep that shaking and yelling would not wake him. When he finally woke his behavior had become violent and his body moved abnormally.

von Economo death

October 1931

In 1931, Constantin von Economo died of a heart attack.



A 23 year old woman who became suddenly ill with fever, tremors, and strange arm movements. With her brain inflamed, doctors diagnosed her with encephalitis lethargica. She did not recover completely for two years.



When Philip died his sister donated his brain to science. Tests done by Dr John Oxford determined that there were no traces of the flu in his brain.



Dr Russel Dale and Dr Andrew Church studied twenty patients with encephalitis lethargica and discovered they all had sore throats caused by the diplococcus bacteria, a more rare form of streptococcus.

New York City


February 1918

A 16-year-old girl is treated by Dr Frederick Tinley. She was suddenly stuck by pain and became paralyzed in the arm. After bouts of violence she fell asleep from Christmas 1917 until February 1918. When she awoke her body was still frozen. She died shortly after with a fever of 107.

New York City


By 1919, New York City several people caught the disease at the same time. There had been US troops overseas that many have brought pathogens back to the homeland.

Spanish Flu

February 1919

By this time over 100,000 had died from the pandemic flu in New York City. The encephalitis seemed to move with the flu infecting the same people.


1922 - 1927

In Spring of 1922 Adam came home for Easter break with a flu that turned into uncontrollable convulsing and yelling. He continued having episodes of incessant talking, drooling, pain. In October of 1924, Adam saw a psychoanalyst, Smith Ely Jellife and looked like a young man with Parkinson's disease. With the help of psychotherapy, Adam was able to find triggers to prevent respiratory attacks and trances. He was able to go five year without an episode and without seeing Jelliffe again.


1923 - 1931

Rosie was a young girl who once suffered a normal strain of the flu but was left with poor eyesight and a limp. The next year she was diagnosed with Parkinsonism though her mother noted she was constantly tired. By 1928 she had grown a tremor in her arm and had a mask-like expression. Her personality became violent. Afterwards she would become extremely lethargic. She had a tendency for self-harm even admitted to tearing her own eyes out.



Jessie was an adult woman who had to leave church suddenly one Sunday as she felt faint and then in extreme pain. By that evening she was barely conscious. She was treated with a blood transfusion and dextrose through an IV for brain swelling. She began improving immediately but still slept often. In August she took a turn for the worst suddenly and died of cardiac arrest.

Neurological Institute


Frederick Tinley helped open the Neurological Institute in Columbia Hospital. Constantin von Economo and his wife traveled from Austria for the opening.


1934 - 1945

Sylvia was a 53 year old women when she first went to the Neurological Institute with a tremor in her arm and a limp. She had previously worked as an ambulance driver in France during the war and had a case of the flu in 1918 and 1920. In 6 years, she visited she institute 51 times testing out numerous vaccines and other treatments to no avail. By 1940 she needed full time care in her home. In 1942 she underwent a craniotomy that relieved her symptoms enough that she could walk again. But in 1945 she deteriorated quickly, became bedridden and could not speak coherently, eventually dying.



Dr Tinley died of heart disease in 1938. He was chairman of the Neurological Institute for 15 years and then director. He also helped research vaccines for encephalitis lethargica.



Jelliffe, neuropsychiatrist who treated encephalitis lethargica patients alongside neurologists died.

Mayor's Wife


NYC Mayor William O'Dwyer's wife passed away after 15 years with encephalitis lethargica symptoms.

Dr Oliver Sacks


Dr Sacks first visits Mount Carmel hospital where there are 80 post-encephalitic patients.


March 1969

Dr Sacks uses L-Dopa to treat the post-encephalitic patients for the first time. The results looked promising with patients coming out of catatonic states and being able to walk stably but there were also unwanted side effects such as former tics and irregular breathing.



Ten years after publishing "Awakenings" a book about his work with L-Dopa and encephalitis lethargica patients, Dr Sacks continues to see and treat post-encephalitic patients with L-Dopa. Of the twenty patients he writes about in his book, he admits only three are still living at the time but are "very vigorously and enjoyably alive."

Houston Teen


A high school football player experienced a sort of seizure at school and in the coming weeks began to feel tired, his body grew stiff, and he had bursts of violence. After researching diseases his doctor gave him a combination of steroids and L-Dopa and in a few weeks the boy recovered.