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J Med Virol. 1996 Sep;50(1):82-92.

Detection of both herpes simplex and varicella-zoster viruses in cerebrospinal fluid from patients with encephalitis.

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  • 1Department of Diagnosis, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Majadahonda, Madrid, Spain.


Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples from 46 patients with encephalitis were studied for the presence of herpes simplex virus (HSV) types 1 and 2 and/or varicella zoster virus (VZV)-specific DNA sequences by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay. Patients were studied because of detection of intrathecal production of IgG antibody to HSV alone (10 patients, Group A) or to both HSV and VZV (11 patients, Group B) or because of the presence of specific anti-HSV IgG in CSF without evidence of intrathecal antibody production (25 patients, Group C). CSF samples taken between days 1 and 10 from onset of encephalitis were available from all patients, and follow-up samples (taken after 10 days from onset) were obtained from some of them. Positive PCR results were obtained in a total of 13 patients. Four patients (three from Group A and one from Group B) gave amplification of HSV type 1 DNA alone, two patients (both from Group B) showed amplification of VZV DNA alone, and seven patients (all from Group B) gave dual amplification of both HSV type 1 and VZV DNA sequences in CSF. All CSF samples from patients in Group C were negative by PCR. Ten patients with CSF samples positive by PCR lacked a prior history of herpetic cutaneous lesions. In seven patients, serum antibody tests (specific IgM detection and specific IgG avidity assays) identified both primary and recurrent infections. The results suggest that the dual presence of IgG antibody to both HSV and VZV in CSF from patients with encephalitis may reflect in some cases a dual infection of the central nervous system caused by both agents.

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