Background Chronic active Epstein-Barr virus infection (CAEBV) has been previously reported to be sometimes associated with an aggressive clinical course. The characteristics of CAEBV in Mainland Chinese pediatric patients are largely unreported. The main aims of this survey were to recognize the clinical features of CAEBV in children and to explore its diagnostic criteria and risk factors.
Methods A retrospective study was performed on 53 pediatric patients (36 boys and 17 girls) with CAEBV who were admitted to Beijing Children’s Hospital between 2003 and 2007. All their medical records were reviewed and analyzed. For each patient, demographic, clinical, laboratory data and outcome were collected. Independent-samples t test was used for statistical analysis.
Results The age at onset of CAEBV was from 2 months to 14.6 years (mean (5.3±3.3) years). At the time of onset, 43.4% patients had an infectious mononucleosis-like symptom. Most patients exhibited intermittent fever (92.5%, 49/53), hepatomegaly (81.1%, 43/53) and splenomegaly (77.4%, 41/53). Life-threatening complications including hemophagocytic syndrome (24.5%,13/53), interstitial pneumonia (24.5%, 13/53), hepatic failure (15.1%, 8/53) and malignant lymphoma (11.3%, 6/53) were also observed. The serum EBV DNA level in 23 patients with CAEBV was in the range of 5.05×102–4.60×106 copies/ml with a mean value of 103.7 copies/ml. Many patients with CAEBV generally had continuous symptoms during the observational period. Eleven out of 42 patients (26.2%) died 7 months to 3 years after onset. Deceased patients were more likely to have had lower platelet counts and albumin levels than the living patients (P <0.05 for all comparisons).
Conclusions The study reveals that CAEBV in Chinese pediatric patients has a severe clinical course and prognosis is poor. Thrombocytopenia and decreases in albumin might potentially be risk factors for a poor prognosis. EBV loads should be measured and tissue should be stained on hybridization probes for EBV-encoded small RNA (EBER) if a patient presents with the known symptoms of CAEBV.