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Listerial brainstem encephalitis – treatable, but easily missed

Fredericks, Pearl ; Britz, Marcell ; Eastman, Roland ; Carr, Jonathan ; Bateman, Kathleen Jane (2015)

CITATION: Fredericks, P., et al. 2015. Listerial brainstem encephalitis – treatable, but easily missed. South African Medical Journal, 105(1):17-20, doi:10.7196/SAMJ.8700.

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ENGLISH 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.

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