Herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE) and the immunocompromised: A clinical and autopsy study of HSE in the settings of cancer and human immunodeficiency virus-type 1 infection
Although herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE) is not regarded as an opportunistic infection, the occurrence of HSE in immunocompromised patients has been documented and the suggestion made that unusual clinical and neuropathologic features characterize the disorder in this population. To further characterize HSE as it affects the immunodeficient, the authors reviewed the clinical and pathological findings in three immunocompromised patients with autopsy-proven HSE. Two patients had cancer (one with lymphoma and another with glioblastoma multiforme), one was known to be human immunodeficiency virus-type 1 (HIV-1)-seropositive and a second was suspected of harboring underlying HIV-1 infection. Two were receiving dexamethasone at onset of HSE. All had fever, mental status changes and new, focal neurological deficits or worsening of established deficits. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pleocytosis was absent or minimal and head computerized tomographic (CT) scans, performed in all cases, were unrevealing. No patient was clinically suspected of having HSE, only one received acyclovir (for concurrent mucocutaneous herpes) and HSE played a major role in all deaths. Autopsy revealed an unusual form of HSE characterized by a noninflammatory, pseudoischemic histological presentation and the unexpected persistence of viral antigens in abundance despite survival beyond the clinical stage during which inflammatory responses usually peak and productive brain infection wanes. The incidence of HSE in the immunocompromised may be underestimated. Preexistent neurological disease, a noninflammatory CSF profile and negative CT scan may confound the diagnosis in this population, a typical clinical presentation notwithstanding. Increased clinical suspicion, the use of magnetic resonance imaging and polymerase chain reaction analysis of CSF for herpes simplex virus nucleic acid sequences may permit more rapid diagnosis and treatment. The absence of inflammatory infiltrates in some fatal cases of HSE suggests that an intact immune response is not requisite to the devastating neurological injury characteristic of this disorder.