Deciphering the clinical impact of acute human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) infections

J Clin Virol. 2011 Nov;52(3):164-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jcv.2011.06.008. Epub 2011 Jul 22.


Human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) is a ubiquitous virus inducing a life-long latent infection of its human host. Acute infections (AIs) have been recognized as the cause of severe diseases. These AIs correspond to primary infections (PIs), mainly occurring in young children, endogenous reactivations (ENRs), observed at any age, and putative exogenous reinfections (EXRs). The diagnosis of AIs is now essentially based on the quantification of viral load in bodily fluids and organs by means of real time PCR. However, this diagnosis is currently bothered by the lack of well established viral load thresholds for the different levels of virus replication, the concomitant infection with the two variants HHV-6A and HHV-6B, and the existence, albeit at low frequency, of chromosomal integration of viral DNA. An additional challenge is the difficulty to establish the causality relationship between AI and disease. Although many AIs are asymptomatic or poorly symptomatic with a spontaneous favourable outcome, some have been credited with serious clinical manifestations affecting central nervous system, liver, gastrointestinal tract, lungs, and bone marrow. The main favouring factor for such serious diseases is cellular immune deficiency. These severe diseases can be exemplified by encephalitis cases either associated with PI in young children or with ENR, especially in haematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients. The antiviral drugs ganciclovir, foscarnet and cidofovir have proven to be efficient against AIs and related diseases but the indications and conditions of their use are not yet formally approved. This emphasizes the need for controlled studies addressing both the clinical impact and therapy of HHV-6 AIs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cidofovir
  • Cytosine / analogs & derivatives
  • Cytosine / pharmacology
  • Cytosine / therapeutic use
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Foscarnet / pharmacology
  • Foscarnet / therapeutic use
  • Ganciclovir / pharmacology
  • Ganciclovir / therapeutic use
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / genetics
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / pathogenicity*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Infant
  • Organophosphonates / pharmacology
  • Organophosphonates / therapeutic use
  • Roseolovirus Infections* / diagnosis
  • Roseolovirus Infections* / drug therapy
  • Roseolovirus Infections* / virology
  • Viral Load
  • Virus Latency


  • Antiviral Agents
  • DNA, Viral
  • Organophosphonates
  • Foscarnet
  • Cytosine
  • Cidofovir
  • Ganciclovir