Introduction: Primary effusion lymphoma (PEL) is a rare type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is characterized by serous effusion in body cavities without detectable tumor masses or lymphadenopathy. It is usually found in human herpes virus 8 (HHV8) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) positive patients, and tumor cells usually show a B-cell–lineage immunophenotype. Case presentation: In the current case, a 44-year old male patient suffering from shortness of breath was hospitalized. He was diagnosed with pleural effusion on the right side. Following a cytological examination of pleural fluid, it was revealed that the patient had high-grade T-cell lymphoma. CD3, CD16, CD8 were positive; whereas CD20, CD30, and CD56 were negative; Ki67 was close to 100 %. HHV8 and HIV were negative, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) was positive. Discussion: The disease had an aggressive progression, and the patient was deceased the day after the diagnosis. The current case indicates an atypical PEL case due to its aggressiveness, which had T-cell phenotype with HHV8 negative, HIV negative and EBV positive. Conclusion: Atypical PEL should be taken into consideration when dealing with aggressive PEL cases.