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Listerial brainstem encephalitis – treatable, but easily missed

Pearl Fredericks, Marcell Britz, Roland Eastman, Jonathan Ambrose Carr, Kathleen Jane Bateman

Abstract


Listerial brainstem encephalitis (LBE) is an uncommon form of listerial central nervous system infection that progresses rapidly and is invariably fatal unless detected and treated early. We report on six adult patients with LBE, of whom five were managed or co-managed by our unit during the period January - June 2012. All presented with a short prodromal illness followed by a combination of brainstem signs, including multiple cranial nerve palsies with emphasis on the lower cranial nerves, ataxia, motor and sensory long-tract signs, a depressed level of consciousness and apnoea. In two cases the diagnosis was delayed with adverse outcomes. LBE may be difficult to diagnose: clinicians may not be aware of this condition, the brainstem location may not be recognised readily, general markers of inflammation such as the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein level or white cell count may be normal, and the cerebrospinal fluid is typically normal or there are only mild and nonspecific findings. Serological tests are unreliable, and diagnosis is achieved through blood cultures, magnetic resonance imaging and clinical recognition.


Authors' affiliations

Pearl Fredericks, Division of Neurology, Department of Internal Medicine, Tygerberg Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Tygerberg, Cape Town, South Africa

Marcell Britz, Private practice, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Roland Eastman, Division of Neurology, Department of Medicine, Groote Schuur Hospital and Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Jonathan Ambrose Carr, Division of Neurology, Department of Internal Medicine, Tygerberg Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Tygerberg, Cape Town, South Africa

Kathleen Jane Bateman, Division of Neurology, Department of Medicine, Groote Schuur Hospital and Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

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Keywords

Listeria; Encephalitis

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2015;105(1):17-20. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.8700

Article History

Date submitted: 2014-07-21
Date published: 2014-11-26

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