VZV myelitis with secondary HIV CSF escape

BMJ Case Rep. 2021 Jun 29;14(6):e241738. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2021-241738.


A 52-year-old woman with HIV and recent antiretroviral therapy non-adherence presented with a 5-day history of widespread painful vesicular skin lesions. Direct fluorescent antibody testing of the skin lesions was positive for varicella zoster virus (VZV). On day 3, she developed profound right upper extremity weakness. MRI of the brain and cervical spine was suggestive of VZV myelitis. Lumbar puncture was positive for VZV PCR in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and CSF HIV viral load was detected at 1030 copies/mL, indicating 'secondary' HIV CSF escape. She was treated with intravenous acyclovir for 4 weeks and subsequent oral therapy with famciclovir then valacyclovir for 6 weeks. She also received dexamethasone. The patient had an almost full recovery at 6 months. Myelitis is a rare complication of reactivated VZV infection that can have atypical presentation in immunocompromised patients. Such 'secondary' HIV CSF escape should be considered in immunosuppressed patients with concomitant central nervous system infection.

Keywords: HIV / AIDS; infection (neurology).

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Acyclovir / therapeutic use
  • Central Nervous System Infections*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / complications
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • Herpes Zoster*
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Myelitis* / diagnosis
  • Myelitis* / drug therapy
  • Myelitis* / etiology


  • Acyclovir