Epidemiology and Etiology of Severe Childhood Encephalitis in The Netherlands

Dutch Pediatric Encephalitis Study Group, M. C.J. Kneijber, J. Lemson, M. Van Heerde, N. A.M. Van Dam, V. Bekker, M. De Hoog, T. F.W. Wolfs, I. H.E. Visser, D. A. Van Waardenburg, K. W. Wolthers

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Background: Limited data are available on childhood encephalitis. Our study aimed to increase insight on clinical presentation, etiology, and clinical outcome of children with severe encephalitis in the Netherlands. Methods: We identified patients through the Dutch Pediatric Intensive Care Evaluation database and included children diagnosed with encephalitis <18 years of age admitted to 1 of the 8 pediatric intensive care units (PICU) in the Netherlands between January 2003 and December 2013. We analyzed demographic characteristics, clinical symptoms, neurologic imaging, etiology, treatment and mortality. Results: We included 121 children with a median age of 4.6 years (IQR 1.3-9.8). The most frequently described clinical features were headache (82.1%), decreased consciousness (79.8%) and seizures (69.8%). In 44.6% of the children, no causative agent was identified. Viral-and immune-mediated encephalitis were diagnosed in 33.1% and 10.7% of the patients. A herpes simplex virus infection (13.2%) was mainly seen in children <5 years of age, median age, 1.73 years (IQR 0.77-5.01), while immune-mediated encephalitis mostly affected older children, median age of 10.4 years (IQR, 3.72-14.18). An age of ≥ 5 years at initial presentation was associated with a lower mortality (OR 0.2 [CI 0.08-0.78]). The detection of a bacterial (OR 9.4 [CI 2.18-40.46]) or viral (OR 3.7 [CI 1.16-11.73]) pathogen was associated with a higher mortality. Conclusions: In almost half of the Dutch children presenting with severe encephalitis, a causative pathogen could not be identified, underlining the need for enhancement of microbiologic diagnostics. The detection of a bacterial or viral pathogen was associated with a higher mortality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-272
Number of pages6
JournalPediatric Infectious Disease Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • children
  • encephalitis
  • epidemiology
  • outcome
  • pediatric intensive care

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