Indeterminate acute liver failure: A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

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Fulminant hepatitis of unknown origin remains a significant cause of mortality, for which liver transplantation is often considered as the only therapeutic option. In retrospective studies, human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) infections have been associated with such diseases, but the diagnosis of HHV-6 infection of the liver is rarely established during the acute phase of liver failure. Using real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), we diagnosed two cases of severe acute liver failure (ALF) related to HHV-6 occurring in immunocompetent young adults. Both cases had a favourable outcome, one after valganciclovir therapy and one after liver transplantation associated with ganciclovir. Viral origin was evidenced in each case by the detection of high amounts of HHV-6 DNA in liver tissue by the PCR assay. The decrease of intrahepatic viral load after therapeutic intervention was also monitored by quantitative PCR and paralleled in the two cases the clinical improvement. Diagnosis of HHV-6 infection must be systematically evoked in case of unexplained ALF, since it might lead to specific therapeutic interventions, in addition to liver transplantation.

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