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West Nile encephalitis mimicking neuropsychiatric lupus in a patient with systemic lupus erythematosus


A man in his 70s with known systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) was admitted with confusion, worsening proteinuria and cutaneous vasculitis despite adherence to his home immunosuppressive regimen. Admission laboratories were consistent with active lupus. Despite treatment with pulse–dose glucocorticoids and intravenous immunoglobulin, he developed worsening mental status and meningeal signs. Investigations revealed cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) neutrophilic and plasmacytic pleocytosis and negative cultures. Empiric treatment for SLE flare with potential neuropsychiatric involvement was continued while workup for altered mental status was ongoing. Ultimately, West Nile encephalitis was diagnosed by CSF serologies, and steroids were tapered. Altered mental status in a patient with SLE has a broad differential, and primary neuropsychiatric SLE should be considered only after exclusion of secondary causes. Although evidence of end-organ SLE activity usually lends support to a neuropsychiatric SLE diagnosis, in this case, serological and clinical evidence of SLE activity may have been triggered by acute viral infection.

  • immunology
  • infectious diseases
  • systemic lupus erythematosus

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