JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Viral encephalitis: a review of diagnostic methods and guidelines for management

I Steiner, H Budka, A Chaudhuri, M Koskiniemi, K Sainio, O Salonen, P G E Kennedy
European Journal of Neurology 2005, 12 (5): 331-43
15804262
Viral encephalitis is a medical emergency. The spectrum of brain involvement and the prognosis are dependent mainly on the specific pathogen and the immunological state of the host. Although specific therapy is limited to only several viral agents, correct immediate diagnosis and introduction of symptomatic and specific therapy has a dramatic influence upon survival and reduces the extent of permanent brain injury in survivors. We searched MEDLINE (National Library of Medicine) for relevant literature from 1966 to May 2004. Review articles and book chapters were also included. Recommendations are based on this literature based on our judgment of the relevance of the references to the subject. Recommendations were reached by consensus. Where there was lack of evidence but consensus was clear we have stated our opinion as good practice points. Diagnosis should be based on medical history, examination followed by analysis of cerebrospinal fluid for protein and glucose contents, cellular analysis and identification of the pathogen by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification (recommendation level A) and serology (recommendation level B). Neuroimaging, preferably by magnetic resonance imaging, is an essential aspect of evaluation (recommendation level B). Lumbar puncture can follow neuroimaging when immediately available, but if this cannot be obtained at the shortest span of time it should be delayed only in the presence of strict contraindications. Brain biopsy should be reserved only for unusual and diagnostically difficult cases. All encephalitis cases must be hospitalized with an access to intensive care units. Supportive therapy is an important basis of management. Specific, evidence-based, anti-viral therapy, acyclovir, is available for herpes encephalitis (recommendation level A). Acyclovir might also be effective for varicella-zoster virus encephalitis, gancyclovir and foscarnet for cytomegalovirus encephalitis and pleconaril for enterovirus encephalitis (IV class of evidence). Corticosteroids as an adjunct treatment for acute viral encephalitis are not generally considered to be effective and their use is controversial. Surgical decompression is indicated for impending uncal herniation or increased intracranial pressure refractory to medical management.

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