The Lancet, Volume 362, Issue 9395, Pages 1536 - 1541, 8 November 2003

Dr Peggy Bruynseels MD a , Prof Philippe G Jorens MD b, Hendrik E Demey b, Prof Herman Goossens MD a, Prof Stefaan R Pattyn MD a, Monique M Elseviers PhD a, Prof Joost Weyler MD d, Prof Leo L Bossaert MD b, Yves Mentens MD c, Prof Margareta Ieven PhD a


Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is occasionally detected in the lower respiratory tract of patients in intensive care, but its clinical importance in such situations remains unclear. We did a prospective cohort study to define the prevalence, origin, risk factors, and clinical relevance of HSV in the respiratory tract of patients undergoing critical care.
We tested 764 patients admitted to intensive care for the presence of HSV in the respiratory tract, and assessed statistical relations between this virus and clinical variables.
HSV was detected by oropharyngeal swab in the upper respiratory tract of 169 (22%) of 764 patients, within 10 days of admission for 150 (89%) of these individuals. The virus was isolated in 58 (16%) of 361 patients whose lower respiratory tract was sampled. The presence of HSV in the throat was a risk factor for development of HSV infections in the lower respiratory tract (p < 0·001). HSV was isolated most frequently in patients with severe disease. HSV in the throat was associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome (p < 0·001) and with increased length of stay in intensive care (p < 0·001).
Our data suggest that HSV reactivation or infection of the upper respiratory tract is frequent among patients in intensive care, and is a risk factor for development of lower respiratory tract infection with this virus, possibly by means of aspiration.