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. 2020 May 1;e20192543.
doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-2543. Online ahead of print.

Infectious and Autoimmune Causes of Encephalitis in Children


Infectious and Autoimmune Causes of Encephalitis in Children

Timothy A Erickson et al. Pediatrics. .


Background and objectives: Encephalitis can result in neurologic morbidity and mortality in children. Newly recognized infectious and noninfectious causes of encephalitis have become increasingly important over the past decade.

Methods: We retrospectively reviewed medical records from pediatric patients in Houston diagnosed with encephalitis in both an urban and rural catchment area between 2010 and 2017. We conducted an investigation to understand the etiology, clinical characteristics, and diagnostic testing practices in this population.

Results: We evaluated 231 patients who met the case definition of encephalitis, among which 42% had no recognized etiology. Among those with an identified etiology, the most common were infectious (73; 31%), including viral (n = 51; 22%), with the most frequent being West Nile virus (WNV; n = 12), and bacterial (n = 19; 8%), with the most frequent being Bartonella henselae (n = 7). Among cases of autoimmune encephalitis (n = 60; 26%), the most frequent cause was anti-N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) encephalitis (n = 31). Autoimmune causes were seen more commonly in female (P < .01) patients. Testing for herpes simplex virus and enterovirus was nearly universal; testing for anti-NMDAR encephalitis, WNV, and Bartonella was less common.

Conclusions: WNV was the most common infectious cause of encephalitis in our pediatric population despite lower testing frequency for WNV than herpes simplex virus or enterovirus. Increasing testing for anti-NMDAR encephalitis resulted in frequent identification of cases. Increased awareness and testing for WNV and Bartonella would likely result in more identified causes of pediatric encephalitis. Earlier etiologic diagnosis of encephalitides may lead to improve clinical outcomes.

Conflict of interest statement

POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The authors have indicated they have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.

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