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Drugs. 2013 Feb;73(2):131-58. doi: 10.1007/s40265-013-0007-5.

Acute viral infections of the central nervous system in immunocompetent adults: diagnosis and management.

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  • 1Department of Infectious Diseases, Institute of Biomedicine, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden. marie.studahl@infect.gu.se

Abstract

Patients with viral infections of the central nervous system (CNS) may present with a variety of neurological symptoms, most commonly dominated by either encephalitis or meningitis. The aetiological panorama varies in different parts of the world as well as over time. Thus, virological first-line diagnostics must be adapted to the current epidemiological situation and to the individual patient history, including recent travels. This review focuses on the diagnostics and treatment of viral CNS infections in the immunocompetent host from a Northern European perspective. Effective vaccines are available for viruses such as poliovirus and tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) and for the childhood diseases morbilli (measles), rubella (German measles), parotitis (mumps) and varicella (chickenpox). However, cases do appear due to suboptimal immunization rates. In viral CNS infections, epidemiological surveillance is essential for establishing preventive strategies and for detecting emerging viruses. Knowledge of the possibilities and limitations of diagnostic methods for specific viral CNS infections is vital. A positive cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) polymerase chain reaction (PCR) finding is usually reliable for aetiological diagnosis. The demonstration of intrathecal antibody synthesis is useful for confirming the aetiology in a later stage of disease, hitherto sufficiently evaluated in herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE) and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). Despite improved virological and differential diagnostic methods, aetiology remains unknown in about half of the cases with suspected viral encephalitis. Antiviral treatment is available chiefly for infections caused by herpesviruses, and acyclovir (aciclovir) is the drug of choice for empirical therapy in suspected viral encephalitis. However, randomized, controlled antiviral trials have only been conducted for HSE, while such studies are lacking in other viral CNS infections. Viral cytolysis and immune-mediated mechanisms may contribute to varying extents to neurological damage. Although the brain damage is believed to depend, to a varying degree, on the intrathecal host immune response, the use of corticosteroids in viral CNS infections is scarcely studied, as is specific treatment for neuroinflammation. Improved antiviral and immunomodulating treatment is desirable. Since neurological sequelae are still abundant, follow-up after severe viral CNS disease must include a neuropsychological assessment and an individually adapted rehabilitation plan.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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