Objective: To investigate the clinical features in PCR-proved herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE) in children, excluding neonates.
Methods: We studied the clinical manifestations and laboratory findings of 24 children in whom the diagnosis of herpes infection was confirmed by the PCR assay and compared them with those of 38 children with central nervous system infections other than HSE.
Results: There were no significant differences between groups in the percentage with fever or convulsions, the initial neurologic symptoms or the level of consciousness. Analysis of cerebrospinal fluid showed no significant differences in the cell count or concentration of protein and glucose. Computerized tomography of the brain identified localized abnormalities in 18 (75%) of the 24 HSE patients and in 10 (31%) of the 32 non-HSE patients (P = 0.001). Periodic lateralized epileptiform discharges, abnormal findings on electroencephalography, were detected in 8 (36%) of 22 HSE patients and in none of the non-HSE patients (P = 0.0001). The rates of moderate to severe morbidity and death were significantly higher in the HSE patients than in the non-HSE patients. Of the 9 HSE patients with a Glasgow Coma Scale score > or = 11, all patients recovered completely. HSE patients younger than 3 years of age were more likely to develop severe sequelae or to die of the disorder than older patients (P = 0.02).
Conclusions: There were no specific clinical characteristics of HSE patients. The results of electroencephalography and computerized tomography were helpful, but not confirmatory, in diagnosing HSE. The Glasgow Coma Scale score and age significantly influenced the mortality and morbidity in the HSE patients.