Genetic characterization of varicella-zoster and HIV-1 viruses from the cerebrospinal fluid of a co-infected encephalitic patient, Ghana

Philip El-Duah*, Augustina Angelina Sylverken, Michael Owusu, Yaw Ampem Amoako, Richmond Yeboah, Richmond Gorman, Emmanuella Nyarko-Afriyie, Julia Schneider, Terry C. Jones, Joseph Bonney, Titus Adade, Eric Smart Yeboah, Tabea Binger, Victor Max Corman, Christian Drosten, Richard Odame Phillips

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: Encephalitis is a serious disease of the brain characterized by prodromal and specific neurological symptoms. HIV infections offer opportunistic viruses, such as Varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the chance to cause encephalitis in patients. There is a lack of information on the genetic diversity of VZV in Ghana and other parts of Africa which requires sequencing and characterization studies to address. The active evolution of HIV-1 in West Africa also requires continuous surveillance for the emergence of new genetic forms.

Case presentation: VZV was detected in the CSF sample of an 11-year-old patient presenting with symptoms of encephalitis by real-time PCR diagnostics. To identify possible unknown aetiological pathogens, next-generation sequencing was performed, and revealed an HIV-1 co-infection.

Alignments of concatenated HIV-1 genome fragments in the gag, pol, vif, env and nef regions and a near-complete VZV genome were analyzed by Bayesian inference, and phylogenetic trees were generated. The VZV sequence belongs to clade 5 and the HIV-1 sequence is a member of the CRF02_AG predominant circulating recombinant form in Ghana.

Conclusions: Diagnostic tests for CSF HIV would be useful where possible in patients presenting with encephalitis due to VZV and other opportunistic viruses in Kumasi to shed light on the role of HIV in encephalitis cases in Ghana. This report reaffirms the role of the CRF02_AG circulating recombinant form in HIV infections in Ghana and also gives a preliminary genetic characterization of VZV in Kumasi, Ghana.

Original languageEnglish
Article number122
Number of pages6
JournalVirology journal
Publication statusPublished - Dec-2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Chickenpox
  • Coinfection
  • Encephalitis
  • Ghana
  • HIV
  • Varicella-zoster virus

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