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Differential diagnosis of acute central nervous system infections in children using modern microbiological methods

Pasi Huttunen, Maija Lappalainen, Eeva Salo, Tuula Lönnqvist, Pia Jokela, Timo Hyypiä, Heikki Peltola
Acta Paediatrica 2009, 98 (8): 1300-6
19432824

AIM: Except bacterial meningitis, the agents causing acute central nervous system (CNS) infections in children are disclosed in only approximately half of the cases, and even less in encephalitis. We studied the potential of modern microbiological assays to improve this poor situation.

METHODS: In a prospective study during 3 years, all children attending hospital with suspected CNS infection were examined using a wide collection of microbiological tests using samples from the cerebrospinal fluid, serum, nasal swabs and stool.

RESULTS: Among 213 patients, 66 (31%) cases suggested CNS infection and specific aetiology was identified in 56 patients. Of these microbiologically confirmed cases, viral meningitis/encephalitis was diagnosed in 25 (45%), bacterial meningitis in 21 (38%) and neuroborreliosis in 9 (16%) cases while 1 child had fungal infection. In meningitis patients, the causative agent was identified in 85% (35/41) cases and in encephalitis in 75% (12/16). The most common bacteria were Streptococcus agalactiae, Streptococcous pneumonie and Neisseria meningitidis, while the most frequently detected viruses were enteroviruses and varicella zoster virus.

CONCLUSION: In 75% to 85% of paediatric CNS infections, specific microbiological diagnosis was obtained with modern laboratory techniques. The results pose a basis for prudent approach to these potentially serious diseases.

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