Background: The diagnosis of viral myocarditis remains difficult and generally depends on clinical and histological criteria. Viral cultures and serology are often unrewarding, with low yields. The purpose of this study was to analyze the usefulness of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in the rapid diagnosis of acute myocarditis in children.
Methods and results: PCR was used to analyze 38 myocardial tissue samples from 34 patients with suspected acute viral myocarditis and 17 control patients with congenital heart disease (14) or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (3). Myocardial samples were obtained at the time of right ventricular biopsy (13 samples), from explanted hearts (18 samples) at transplantation, and from cardiac autopsy specimens (24 samples) and were evaluated for the presence of enterovirus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), adenovirus, and herpes simplex virus (HSV) using PCR primers designed to consensus and unique sequences of these viral genomes. Blood also was obtained at the time of biopsy (11) or transplant (18). In 26 of 38 myocardial samples (68%), viral genome was detected by PCR (15 adenoviral, 8 enteroviral, 2 HSV, 1 CMV), whereas all control myocardial samples and blood samples were negative. Four patients had positive viral cultures, and these matched the PCR findings. Disagreement with histopathology occurred in 13 of 26 PCR-positive specimens, usually associated with adenovirus.
Conclusions: PCR offers a rapid, sensitive diagnostic method for myocardial viral infection. While enterovirus is an important etiological agent, adenovirus was more prevalent in this series and should be evaluated when etiology is sought. PCR used in conjunction with standard endomyocardial biopsy appears to enhance the likelihood of detecting viral genome in the myocardium of patients with clinical evidence of myocarditis.