Molecular detection of viral causes of encephalitis and meningitis in New York State

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The etiology of encephalitis and meningitis, serious diseases of the central nervous system (CNS), in most cases remains unknown. The importance of establishing a diagnosis however, becomes even more important as advances are made in effective therapy. Molecular methods of detection, in particular, PCR, are being used routinely and have established a place in the arsenal of tools for diagnosis of CNS infections. In this study a viral etiological agent was detected by PCR in 340 of the total 2,357 specimens from patients who exhibited symptoms of encephalitis or meningitis. The detection rate increased from 8.9% during the first year of the study to 14.8% during the second year of the study with improved methodology and an expanded panel of viral agents. Methods were enhanced by developing real-time PCR assays (some multiplexed), using increased automation, superior nucleic acid extraction, and reverse transcription (RT) methods, and incorporation of an internal extraction control. Additionally, adenovirus and human herpes virus 6 (HHV-6) were added to the original panel of 10 viruses that included enteroviruses, herpesviruses, and arboviruses. The most common viruses detected were enteroviruses (129; 5.5%), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) (85; 3.6%), herpes simplex viruses (HSVs) 1 and 2 (67; 2.8%), and varicella zoster virus (VZV) (44; 1.9%). J. Med. Virol. 83:2172–2181, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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