Interpretation of positive molecular tests of common viruses in the cerebrospinal fluid

Archana Bhaskaran, Lori Racsa, Rita Gander, Paul Southern, Dominick Cavuoti, Adnan Alatoom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Many central nervous system infections are historically difficult to diagnose. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has revolutionized the diagnosis of these infections because of their high sensitivity despite the lack of data on clinical usefulness. We conducted a retrospective study that included patients with positive cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) PCR for herpes simplex virus, varicella-zoster virus, JC virus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) between January 2009 and December 2011. The positive results were grouped into definite, likely, and possible true positives and likely false-positive categories based on pre-specified definitions specific to each virus. Of 1663 CSF viral PCR tests, 88 were positive (5%). The combined positive predictive value (PPV) was 58%. The PPVs were least for CMV and EBV at 29 and 37%, respectively. A positive CSF viral PCR result has to be interpreted with caution due to several false-positive results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-240
Number of pages5
JournalDiagnostic Microbiology and Infectious Disease
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1 2013


  • CSF
  • False positive
  • PCR
  • Positive predictive value
  • Virus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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