JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Viral meningoencephalitis: 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 2010, 17 (8): 999-e57
20236175

BACKGROUND: Viral encephalitis is a medical emergency. The prognosis depends mainly on the pathogen and host immunologic state. Correct immediate diagnosis and introduction of symptomatic and specific therapy has a dramatic influence upon survival and reduces the extent of permanent brain injury.

METHODS: We searched the literature from 1966 to 2009. Recommendations were reached by consensus. Where there was lack of evidence but consensus was clear, we have stated our opinion as good practice points.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Diagnosis should be based on medical history and examination followed by CSF analysis for protein and glucose levels, cellular analysis, and identification of the pathogen by polymerase chain reaction amplification (recommendation level A) and serology (level B). Neuroimaging, preferably by MRI, is essential (level B). Lumbar puncture can follow neuroimaging when immediately available, but if this cannot be performed immediately, LP should be delayed only under unusual circumstances. Brain biopsy should be reserved only for unusual and diagnostically difficult cases. Patients must be hospitalized with easy access to intensive care units. Specific, evidence-based, antiviral therapy, acyclovir, is available for herpes encephalitis (level A) and may also be effective for varicella-zoster virus encephalitis. Ganciclovir and foscarnet can be given to treat cytomegalovirus encephalitis, and pleconaril for enterovirus encephalitis (IV class evidence). Corticosteroids as an adjunct treatment for acute viral encephalitis are not generally considered to be effective, and their use is controversial, but this important issue is currently being evaluated in a large clinical trial. Surgical decompression is indicated for impending uncal herniation or increased intracranial pressure refractory to medical management.

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