Molecular identification of viruses in sudden infant death associated with myocarditis and pericarditis

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A subset of infants dying suddenly and unexpectedly have myocarditis with or without pericarditia found at autopsy. To address whether viruses known to cause infantile myocarditis and pericarditis might be present in such infants, we examined myocardium, liver and skeletal muscle for the presence of genomic sequences from adenovirus, cytomegalovirus, enterovirus and echovirus 22/23 in infants enrolled in a comprehensive evaluation protocol. We studied eight infants who died suddenly and unexpectedly with histologic evidence of myocarditis and/or pericarditis detected at postmortem examination. One infant with myocarditis and pericarditis had adenovirus genome detected in the myocardium. In an additional infant with severe pericarditis alone, enterovirus genome was detected in the liver. Although echovirus 22/23 has been associated with myopericarditis in young infants, no previous studies have used molecular methods to search for the genomic sequences of these viruses in clinical samples. No echovirus 22/23 genome was detected in the patients reported here. The significance of enterovirus and adenovirus genome in the tissues of two patients dying suddenly and unexpectedly remains speculative but raises the possibility that pathogenic viruses may cause little or no clinical symptoms and yet be contributory to sudden death in young infants.

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