Viral infection in children commonly causes acute lung disease leading to respiratory decompensation requiring intensive supportive therapy. Definitive diagnosis of the causative virus may be difficult, relying on serologic data since viral cultures are frequently negative; lung biopsy may be necessary to increase the diagnostic yield. The objective of this study was to develop a rapid and sensitive diagnostic method using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Analyzing Formalin-fixed lung tissue from autopsies of 32 patients with pneumonitis in whom cultures, serology, and histopathology results were blinded to the investigators, and 10 negative control samples, PCR was performed for cytomegalovirus, adenovirus, enteroviruses, herpes simplex virus, and Epstein-Barr virus. Among the 32 affected specimens, 7 were culture-positive for a specific virus in the lung; 6/7 of these were PCR-positive for the identical virus. In the culture-positive specimen not PCR amplified, influenza B was the cultured agent, but this virus was not evaluated by PCR. In the remaining 25 samples which were culture-negative, 11 were PCR-positive. All 10 negative controls were negative by PCR. Three specimens with CMV inclusions but culture-negative were also negative by PCR. We conclude that PCR is sensitive and accurate in the evaluation of lung tissue for viral pneumonitis.
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