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09.12.2019 | original article | Ausgabe 1-2/2020 Open Access

Wiener klinische Wochenschrift 1-2/2020

Polymerase chain reaction for the diagnosis of herpesvirus infections in dermatology

Analysis of clinical data

Wiener klinische Wochenschrift > Ausgabe 1-2/2020
MD Verena Schremser, MD Lukasz Antoniewicz, MD Erwin Tschachler, MD Assoc. Prof. Dr. Alexandra Geusau
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Rapid identification of human herpesviruses from lesion swabs is necessary for timely initiation of antiviral treatment, especially with infections involving neonates and immunocompromised individuals. The aim of the study was to investigate the results of an in-house polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for herpesviruses in patients with symptoms suggestive for a herpesvirus infection.

Patients and methods

In this single center retrospective study the results of 3677 lesion swab specimens tested for human herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 (HSV 1 and 2) and varicella zoster virus (VZV) were analyzed in the context of data sheets giving details of the suspected diagnosis, medical history as well as the demographic data of the patients. The PCR procedures for cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and human herpes virus 8 (HHV-8) were applied on special occasions.


Of the samples 3369 (91.6%) were swabs and a minority were tissue or blood samples. Of the 3015 samples tested for HSV‑1, HSV‑2 and VZV concomitantly, 52.3% were positive for at least one of these viruses. Clinically distinct conditions, such as herpes zoster and varicella had a high rate of positive PCR results, ranging from 81% to 88%, respectively. Among HSV‑2 positive samples, 23.7% derived from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) positive patients, in contrast to the 10.8% originating from immunocompetent patients, the difference being statistically significant (p < 0.002). The HSV‑2 was detected more often in women than in men.


Distinct clinical diagnoses have a high correlation rate with positive PCR results. A significantly higher number of HSV‑2 positive results were found in HIV positive patients and in women.

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