Encephalitis means inflammation of the brain matter. Despite being a rare condition, encephalitis is of public health importance worldwide because it has high morbidity and mortality. Yet, many details about its epidemiology have yet to be elucidated. This review attempts to summarise what is known about the epidemiology of the infective causes of encephalitis and is based on a literature search of the Medline archives. Infection is the most common cause identified, with viruses being the most important known aetiological agents. Incidence varies between studies but is generally between 3.5 and 7.4 per 100,000 patient-years. Encephalitis affects peoples of all ages; however, incidence is higher in the paediatric population. Although both sexes are affected, most studies have shown a slight predominance in males. Encephalitis occurs worldwide; some aetiologies have a global distribution (herpesviruses) while others are geographically restricted (arboviruses). Although definite epidemiological trends are evident, it is difficult to make generalisations as few population-based studies exist, most cases are not reported to health authorities, and many possible pathogens are implicated but in most cases a cause is never found. A better understanding of the epidemiology of this devastating disease will pave the way for better prevention and control strategies.