To identify varicella-zoster virus (VZV) infections of the nervous system in patients infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples from 514 consecutive HIV-infected patients with neurological disease was performed to detect VZV DNA. VZV DNA was detected in CSF of 13 (2.5%) of 514 patients. Four of 13 patients had VZV encephalitis or meningoencephalomyelitis. These four patients received intravenous acyclovir therapy; CSF became negative for VZV DNA and clinical conditions improved for two, whereas CSF remained positive for VZV DNA and clinical conditions worsened until death for two. In nine of 13 patients, the neurological symptoms were likely caused by other simultaneous HIV-related complications in the central nervous system. After intravenous therapy with high doses of acyclovir or foscarnet, VZV was cleared from CSF in eight of nine patients. VZV DNA can be detected in CSF of HIV-infected patients in association with either manifestations of neurological VZV disease or subclinical reactivation of VZV infection. Antiviral treatment may be effective in suppressing VZV replication in the nervous system.
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