Herpes simplex encephalitis: adolescents and adults

Antiviral Res. 2006 Sep;71(2-3):141-8. doi: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2006.04.002. Epub 2006 Apr 25.


Herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE) remains one of the most devastating infections of the central nervous system despite available antiviral therapy. Children and adolescents account for approximately one third of all cases of HSE. Clinical diagnosis is suggested in the encephalopathic, febrile patient with focal neurologic signs. However, these clinical findings are not pathognomonic because numerous other diseases in the central nervous system can mimic HSE. Neurodiagnostic evaluation can provide support for the diagnosis by the demonstration of temporal lobe edema/hemorrhage by magnetic resonance image scan and spike and slow-wave activity on electroencephalogram. In the current era, the diagnostic gold standard is the detection of herpes simplex virus (HSV) DNA in the cerebrospinal fluid by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Although PCR is an excellent test and preferable to brain biopsy, false negatives can occur early after disease onset. Acyclovir is the treatment of choice and is administered at 10 mg/kg every 8 h for 21 days. Even with early administration of therapy after the disease onset, nearly two thirds of survivors have significant residual neurologic deficits. Current investigative efforts are assessing the prognostic value of quantitative PCR detection of viral DNA at the onset of therapy as well as at the completion of therapy and the contribution of prolonged antiviral therapy to improved neurologic outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • DNA, Viral / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex* / diagnosis
  • Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex* / drug therapy
  • Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex* / physiopathology
  • Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex* / virology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Simplexvirus / genetics
  • Simplexvirus / isolation & purification*


  • Antiviral Agents
  • DNA, Viral