Causes and Clinical Features of Childhood Encephalitis: A Multicenter, Prospective Cohort Study

Philip N. Britton, Russell C. Dale, Christopher C. Blyth, Julia E. Clark, Nigel Crawford, Helen Marshall, Elizabeth J. Elliott, Kristine Macartney, Robert Booy, Cheryl A. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: We aimed to determine the contemporary causes, clinical features, and short-term outcome of encephalitis in Australian children. METHODS: We prospectively identified children (≤14 years of age) admitted with suspected encephalitis at 5 major pediatric hospitals nationally between May 2013 and December 2016 using the Paediatric Active Enhanced Disease Surveillance (PAEDS) Network. A multidisciplinary expert panel reviewed cases and categorized them using published definitions. Confirmed encephalitis cases were categorized into etiologic subgroups. RESULTS: From 526 cases of suspected encephalitis, 287 children met criteria for confirmed encephalitis: 57% (95% confidence interval [CI], 52%-63%) had infectious causes, 10% enterovirus, 10% parechovirus, 8% bacterial meningoencephalitis, 6% influenza, 6% herpes simplex virus (HSV), and 6% Mycoplasma pneumoniae; 25% (95% CI, 20%-30%) had immune-mediated encephalitis, 18% acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, and 6% anti-N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor encephalitis; and 17% (95% CI, 13%-21%) had an unknown cause. Infectious encephalitis occurred in younger children (median age, 1.7 years [interquartile range {IQR}, 0.1-6.9]) compared with immune-mediated encephalitis (median age, 7.6 years [IQR, 4.6-12.4]). Varicella zoster virus encephalitis was infrequent following high vaccination coverage since 2007. Thirteen children (5%) died: 11 with infectious causes (2 influenza; 2 human herpesvirus 6; 2 group B Streptococcus; 2 Streptococcus pneumoniae; 1 HSV; 1 parechovirus; 1 enterovirus) and 2 with no cause identified. Twenty-seven percent (95% CI, 21%-31%) of children showed moderate to severe neurological sequelae at discharge. CONCLUSIONS: Epidemic viral infections predominated as causes of childhood encephalitis in Australia. The leading causes include vaccine-preventable diseases. There were significant differences in age, clinical features, and outcome among leading causes. Mortality or short-term neurological morbidity occurred in one-third of cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2517-2526
Number of pages10
JournalClinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'Causes and Clinical Features of Childhood Encephalitis: A Multicenter, Prospective Cohort Study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this