Distribution of human herpesvirus 6 and varicella-zoster virus in organs of a fatal case with exanthem subitum and varicella

Acta Paediatr Jpn. 1996 Dec;38(6):590-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1442-200x.1996.tb03713.x.


The distribution of human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) and varicella-zoster virus (VZV) was examined in autopsy samples from a fatal case with both virus infections. A 9-month-old boy developed convulsive seizures followed by macular skin rashes, rapidly progressed to brain death, and died 15 days after the onset, when signs of varicella were noted. An isolation of HHV-6 from blood and evaluation of antibody activities to various viral agents including HHV-6 were performed before his death. Postmortem examinations included: (i) isolation of HHV-6 and VZV from tissues or organs; (ii) detection of both virus antigens in tissues or organs by an indirect immunofluorescent assay using monoclonal antibodies to both viruses; (iii) amplification of both viruses and human herpesvirus 7 DNA sequences by a nested polymerase chain reaction assay; and (iv) endonuclease digestion of amplified products of HHV-6 DNA for differentation of variants A and B. Human herpesvirus 6 DNA was detected in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and plasma obtained at the eruptive stage but present only in PBMC 15 days after, indicating the primary infection with HHV-6, although the virus was not isolated from the same blood sample and a significant rise in the antibody titers to HHV-6 was not observed. Both virus antigens and DNA were detected in various tissues or organs obtained at autopsy, but only VZV was isolated from these samples, suggesting disseminated infection with both viruses in an infant. All the amplified products of HHV-6 DNA were variant B. Among the findings for the distribution of virus antigens, it was noteworthy that HHV-6 antigen was demonstrated in the endothelial cells of small vessels in the frontal lobe of the brain. There was no evidence of HHV-7 infection. These data indicate that the primary HHV-6 infection closely followed by the primary VZV infection had the potential hazard of an unexpected and apparently life-threatening event, in which disseminated infections with both viruses were noted in multiple tissues or organs including the brain.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Viral / analysis
  • Chickenpox / pathology
  • Chickenpox / virology*
  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • Exanthema Subitum / pathology
  • Exanthema Subitum / virology*
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / isolation & purification*
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 6, Human / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • DNA, Viral