Could antiviral treatment prevent some cases of epilepsy?
A ten-year NIH-funded study has determined that a third of infants with prolonged seizures and fever suffer from either a new or reactivated roseola virus infection. Roseola viruses are the cause of the common childhood rash, but can also cause limbic encephalitis, a condition that frequently progresses to epilepsy. Investigators discovered one of the roseola viruses, human herpesvirus-6B (HHV-6B) in the blood of 32% of 169 infants with prolonged seizures, a condition known as status epilepticus. They found HHV-7 (another roseola virus) in 7.1% of the patients, usually as a co-infection with HHV-6B.
The study strengthens the link between HHV-6B and mesial temporal lobe epilepsy. HHV-6B is the primary cause of limbic encephalitis in transplant patients and half of those cases go on to develop epilepsy within 3-5 years. Furthermore, several studies have found HHV-6B DNA at high levels in the brain tissue of patients with refractory epilepsy. "A clinical trial is urgently needed to determine if repeat seizures and some cases of temporal lobe epilepsy might be prevented using existing antiviral therapy," said Kristin Loomis, executive director of the HHV-6 Foundation.
These viruses persist in the brain cells and can be activated during periods of immunosuppression or stress. HHV-6 and HHV-7 are spread via the saliva and nearly 100% of the population has been infected by early adulthood.
Do childhood viruses smolder and emerge later as full-blown epilepsy?
"It is possible that these patients harbor latent virus in the brain tissue that reactivates later in response to unknown triggers," said Leon Epstein, MD, a pediatric neurologist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Dr. Epstein is the lead author of this new study published in the journal Epilepsia.
While febrile or fever-related seizures occur in 2-5% of infants, most of whom recover with no consequences, less is known about the outcome in children who suffer from the prolonged febrile seizures associated with HHV-6 or HHV-7. These children are still being followed and investigators expect that 30-40% of them will develop epilepsy within five years.
Would some infants with prolonged seizures benefit from antiviral treatment?