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Human herpesviruses in the cornea
  1. Stephen B Kayea,
  2. Kevin Bakera,
  3. Richard Bonshekb,
  4. Henry Maserukab,
  5. Esther Grinfeldc,
  6. Andrew Tullob,
  7. David L Eastyc,
  8. Colin A Harta
  1. aDepartment of Medical Microbiology, University of Liverpool, bDepartment of Ophthalmology University of Manchester, cDepartment of Ophthalmology, University of Bristol
  1. Mr S B Kaye, St Paul's Eye Unit, 8z Link, Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Prescot Street, Liverpool L7 8XP


AIMS To determine the sensitivity and specificity of culture, immunohistochemistry (IHC), the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and in situ hybridisation (ISH) for detecting herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) in the cornea of patients undergoing penetrating keratoplasty. To compare the incidence of HSV-1 in the cornea with that of varicella zoster virus (VZV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

METHODS The corneas of 110 patients, 52 with a documented history of herpes keratitis (HSK) and 58 with non-herpetic corneal disease, were investigated using IHC, PCR, ISH, and culture.

RESULTS HSV-1 DNA and antigen were detected in 82% and 74% respectively, of corneas of patients with HSK and in 22% and 15% of corneas of patients with no history of HSK. The sensitivity of PCR and IHC was 82% and 74% with a specificity of 78% and 85%, respectively. HSV-1 DNA and antigen were found more frequently and in increased amounts in corneas of patients with a short interval between their last attack of HSK and surgery. There was a good correlation between PCR and IHC in 71%. HSV-1 was isolated by culture in 2%. Latency associated transcripts were not detected using ISH. Evidence of VZV DNA or antigen was found significantly more frequently in the corneas of patients with a history of HSK (p<0.001). No evidence of EBV or CMV was found in any cornea.

CONCLUSIONS PCR and IHC are both sensitive for the detection of HSV-1 in the cornea. A combination of PCR and IHC increases the specificity for the diagnosis of HSK to 97%. HSV-1 appears to be slowly removed from the cornea. VZV and HSV-1 may co-infect the cornea.

  • human herpesviruses
  • cornea

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