Comparison of two assays to diagnose herpes simplex virus in patients with central nervous system infections

J Clin Virol. 2023 Sep:166:105528. doi: 10.1016/j.jcv.2023.105528. Epub 2023 Jun 27.


Background: Multiplex PCR panels are frequently used for detecting the diagnosis of central nervous system infection, but have demonstrated lower sensitivity for herpes simplex virus (HSV) compared to targeted PCRs. Providers in our institution frequently order both multiplex (BioFire Meningitis/Encephalitis Panel (MEP)) and targeted HSV PCR (Diasorin Simplexa HSV-1/2 Direct), allowing comparison of assay performance in practice and a unique clinical characterization of patients with concordant positive or discordant results.

Methods: We retrospectively analyzed all HSV testing performed using the two assays simultaneously in a large multi-center institution between 12/10/2018 and 6/6/2022. We described and compared laboratory, diagnostic and therapeutic data between patients with positive results on both assays with patients with discordant results.

Results: 1,387 patients were tested with both assays, of which 25 were positive on at least one assay. Eleven (44%) had discordant results; 9 were targeted-PCR-positive/MEP-negative and 2 were targeted-PCR-negative/MEP-positive. Compared with patients with concordant positive results, discordant targeted PCR-positive/MEP-negative patients had a higher PCR cycle threshold value (i.e., >35) and milder illness characterized by lower CSF WBC counts (4 vs 152; p = 0.032), fewer MRI abnormalities (37.5% vs. 87.5%; p = 0.039), HSV meningoencephalitis as primary discharge diagnosis (33% vs. 100%; p<0.0001) and were more often treated with oral medication or none at all.

Conclusions: Patients with discordant targeted PCR-positive/MEP-negative results represent a population with milder clinical disease. These findings will help clinicians and laboratorians determine when both targeted HSV and multiplex assays should be performed simultaneously and identify patients for whom a multiplex PCR may suffice, despite lower assay sensitivity.

Keywords: Central nervous system; Diagnosis; HSV PCR; Herpes simplex virus; Multiplex meningitis/encephalitis panel.

MeSH terms

  • Body Fluids*
  • Encephalitis, Herpes Simplex* / diagnosis
  • Herpes Simplex* / diagnosis
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human / genetics
  • Humans
  • Multiplex Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Retrospective Studies