Active Case Finding of Current Bornavirus Infections in Human Encephalitis Cases of Unknown Etiology, Germany, 2018–2020
Human bornavirus encephalitis is a severe and often fatal infection caused by variegated squirrel bornavirus 1 (VSBV-1) and Borna disease virus 1 (BoDV-1). We conducted a prospective study of bornavirus etiology of encephalitis cases in Germany during 2018–2020 by using a serologic testing scheme applied along proposed graded case definitions for VSBV-1, BoDV-1, and unspecified bornavirus encephalitis. Of 103 encephalitis cases of unknown etiology, 4 bornavirus infections were detected serologically. One chronic case was caused by VSBV-1 after occupational-related contact of a person with exotic squirrels, and 3 acute cases were caused by BoDV-1 in virus-endemic areas. All 4 case-patients died. Bornavirus etiology could be confirmed by molecular methods. Serologic testing for these cases was virus specific, discriminatory, and a practical diagnostic option for living patients if no brain tissue samples are available. This testing should be guided by clinical and epidemiologic suspicions, such as residence in virus-endemic areas and animal exposure.