Japanese encephalitis (JE) should be considered in a patient with evidence of a neurologic infection (e.g., meningitis, encephalitis, or acute flaccid paralysis) who has recently traveled to or resided in an endemic country in Asia or the western Pacific.
Laboratory diagnosis of JE is generally accomplished by testing of serum or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to detect virus-specific IgM antibodies. JE virus IgM antibodies are usually detectable 3 to 8 days after onset of illness and persist for 30 to 90 days, but longer persistence has been documented. Therefore, positive IgM antibodies occasionally may reflect a past infection or vaccination. Serum collected within 10 days of illness onset may not have detectable IgM, and the test should be repeated on a convalescent sample. For patients with JE virus IgM antibodies, confirmatory neutralizing antibody testing should be performed. In fatal cases, nucleic acid amplification, histopathology with immunohistochemistry, and virus culture of autopsy tissues can also be useful.
Diagnostic testing for JE virus IgM antibodies is commercially-available. Confirmatory testing is only available at CDC and a few specialized reference laboratories. Healthcare providers should contact their state or local health department or the CDC Arboviral Diseases Branch (telephone: 970-221-6400) for assistance with diagnostic testing.
Instructions for sending diagnostic specimens to CDC’s Arbovirus Diagnostic Laboratory, DVBD, can be found here.