Background: Although enteroviruses and adenoviruses are considered to be the leading causes of the usually mild clinical myocarditis, little is known about the etiology of severe or fatal myocarditis.
Methods: We collected all available clinical records and myocardial autopsy samples for patients who had myocarditis recorded as the underlying cause of death in Finland during the period of 1970-1998. Findings for all available patients (20 men and 20 women; median age, 49 years) with myocarditis that fulfilled the Dallas criteria and who had sufficient data were included in the study. Twelve subjects who had died accidentally served as control subjects. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and in situ hybridization assays were used for detection of viral genomes (adenovirus, cytomegalovirus, enterovirus, human herpesvirus 6, influenza A and B viruses, parvovirus B19, and rhinovirus) in heart samples.
Results: Viral nucleic acids were found in the hearts of 17 patients (43%), including cytomegalovirus (15 patients), parvovirus B19 (4 patients), enterovirus (1 patient), and human herpesvirus 6 (1 patient). In 4 patients, cytomegalovirus DNA was found in addition to parvovirus B19 or enterovirus genomes. No adenoviruses, rhinoviruses, or influenza viruses were detected in this study of fatal myocarditis. In 67% of the patients for whom PCR was positive for cytomegalovirus, in situ hybridization revealed viral DNA in cardiomyocytes. Only 1 of these patients was immunocompromised. In the control group, only human herpesvirus 6 (1 subject) and parvovirus B19 (1 subject) DNA were detected.
Conclusions: In this population-based study, cytomegalovirus was found to be the most common specific finding in immunocompetent patients with fatal myocarditis. This may have important clinical implications for the treatment of severe acute myocarditis.