Which studies are performed to identify the infectious agent causing encephalitis?

Updated: Aug 07, 2018
  • Author: David S Howes, MD; Chief Editor: Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP  more...
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Herpes simplex virus (HSV) cultures of suspicious lesions and a Tzanck smear should be obtained. Viral cultures of CSF, including HSV, should be performed, although the incidence of the latter being positive is rare. Blood cultures for bacterial pathogens should be obtained.

Complement fixation antibodies are useful in identifying arbovirus. Cross-reactivity exists among a subgroup of arboviruses, the flaviviruses (eg, viruses that cause St Louis encephalitis, Japanese virus encephalitis [JE], and West Nile encephalitis [WNE]), and the antibodies found in persons inoculated with yellow fever vaccine.

Heterophile antibody and cold agglutinin testing for Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) may be helpful.

Serologic tests for toxoplasmosis can be helpful in light of an abnormal computed tomography (CT) scan, particularly in the case of single lesions. However, the overlap in titer levels between exposed but currently uninfected and reactivated groups may complicate interpretation.

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