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Future Neurol. 2009 Jan 1;4(1):103-117.

Clinical and molecular aspects of varicella zoster virus infection.


A declining cell-mediated immunity to varicella zoster virus (VZV) with advancing age or immunosuppression results in virus reactivation from latently infected human ganglia anywhere along the neuraxis. Virus reactivation produces zoster, often followed by chronic pain (postherpetic neuralgia or PHN) as well as vasculopathy, myelopathy, retinal necrosis and cerebellitis. VZV reactivation also produces pain without rash (zoster sine herpete). Vaccination after age 60 reduces the incidence of shingles by 51%, PHN by 66% and the burden of illness by 61%. However, even if every healthy adult over age 60 years is vaccinated, there would still be about 500,000 zoster cases annually in the United States alone, about 200,000 of whom will experience PHN. Analyses of viral nucleic acid and gene expression in latently infected human ganglia and in an animal model of varicella latency in primates are serving to determine the mechanism(s) of VZV reactivation with the aim of preventing reactivation and the clinical sequelae.

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