Fatal Powassan Encephalitis (Deer Tick Virus, Lineage II) in a Patient With Fever and Orchitis Receiving Rituximab

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Abstract

Importance

Powassan virus is a rare but increasingly recognized cause of severe neurological disease.

Objective

To highlight the diagnostic challenges and neuropathological findings in a fatal case of Powassan encephalitis caused by deer tick virus (lineage II) in a patient with follicular lymphoma receiving rituximab, with nonspecific anti-GAD65 antibodies, who was initially seen with fever and orchiepididymitis.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Comparison of clinical, radiological, histological, and laboratory findings, including immunohistochemistry, real-time polymerase chain reaction, antibody detection, and unbiased sequencing assays, in a single case report (first seen in December 2016) at an academic medical center.

Exposure

Infection with Powassan virus.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Results of individual assays compared retrospectively.

Results

In a 63-year-old man with fatal Powassan encephalitis, serum and cerebrospinal fluid IgM antibodies were not detected via standard methods, likely because of rituximab exposure. Neuropathological findings were extensive, including diffuse leptomeningeal and parenchymal lymphohistiocytic infiltration, microglial proliferation, marked neuronal loss, and white matter microinfarctions most severely involving the cerebellum, thalamus, and basal ganglia. Diagnosis was made after death by 3 independent methods, including demonstration of Powassan virus antigen in brain biopsy and autopsy tissue, detection of viral RNA in serum and cerebrospinal fluid by targeted real-time polymerase chain reaction, and detection of viral RNA in cerebrospinal fluid by unbiased sequencing. Extensive testing for other etiologies yielded negative results, including mumps virus owing to prodromal orchiepididymitis. Low-titer anti-GAD65 antibodies identified in serum, suggestive of limbic encephalitis, were not detected in cerebrospinal fluid.

Conclusions and Relevance

Owing to the rarity of Powassan encephalitis, a high degree of suspicion is required to make the diagnosis, particularly in an immunocompromised patient, in whom antibody-based assays may be falsely negative. Unbiased sequencing assays have the potential to detect uncommon infectious agents and may prove useful in similar scenarios.

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