The relationship between herpes simplex virus (HSV) and oral mucositis was investigated in children undergoing antineoplastic chemotherapy. HSV culture was performed in 20 children with stomatitis developing after antineoplastic chemotherapy. Viral isolates were typed and susceptibility to acyclovir was investigated. The virus was isolated from oral lesions in 10 of 20 children with severe oral mucositis. Viral reactivation was the most likely explanation in most cases, since HSV was isolated in 9 of 13 seropositive patients (and in 1 patient with unknown anti-HSV serology), but in no seronegative patient. HSV type 1 was isolated more frequently than HSV type 2 (8 versus 2). Acyclovir showed standard in vitro activity against all isolates. Our results suggest that oral mucositis in children receiving antineoplastic treatment is probably multifactorial in origin and that HSV can be an important cofactor, especially in children who are seropositive for HSV. In our Centre, acyclovir remains active in vitro against this opportunistic pathogen and could be employed in prophylaxis and therapy.
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