Cases That Test Your Skills

An overlooked cause of catatonia

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Delay in the diagnosis and treatment of VZV encephalitis can be detrimental or even fatal. Kodadhala et al12 found that the mortality rate for VZV encephalitis is 5% to 10% and ≤80% in immunosuppressed individuals.

Sometimes, VZV encephalitis can masquerade as a psychiatric presentation. Few cases presenting with acute or delayed neuro­psychiatric symptoms related to VZV encephalitis have been previously reported in the literature. Some are summarized in Table 313,14 and Table 4.15,16

Acute psychiatric presentations of VZV encephalitis

To our knowledge, this is the first case report of catatonia as a presentation of VZV encephalitis. The catatonic presentation has been previously described in autoimmune encephalitis such as N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor encephalitis, due to glutamatergic hypofunction.17

Delayed neuropsychiatric presentations after VZV encephalitis

Bottom Line

In the setting of a patient with an abrupt change in mental status/behavior, physicians must be aware of the importance of a thorough physical examination to better ascertain a diagnosis and to rule out an underlying medical disorder. Reactivation of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) can result in encephalitis that might masquerade as a psychiatric presentation, including symptoms of catatonia.

Related Resources

Drug Brand Names

Acyclovir • Sitavig
Diazepam • Valium
Haloperidol • Haldol
Lorazepam • Ativan
Levothyroxine • Levoxyl
Olanzapine • Zyprexa
Risperidone • Risperdal


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