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J Clin Microbiol. 2007 Dec;45(12):3909-14. Epub 2007 Sep 12.

Effect of viral load on the outcome of herpes zoster.

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Centre for Infectious Disease, Institute of Cell and Molecular Science, Barts, and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary College, London, UK.


Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is a member of the Herpesviridae family, primary infection with which causes varicella, more commonly known as chicken pox. Characteristic of members of the alphaherpesvirus subfamily, VZV is neurotropic and establishes latency in sensory neurons. Reactivation of VZV causes herpes zoster, also known as shingles. The most frequent complication following zoster is chronic and often debilitating pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which can last for months after the disappearance of a rash. During episodes of acute zoster, VZV viremia occurs in some, but not all, patients; however, the effect of the viral load on the disease outcome is not known. Here we describe the development of a highly specific, sensitive, and reproducible real-time PCR assay to investigate the factors that may contribute to the presence and levels of baseline viremia in patients with zoster and to determine the relationship between viremia and the development and persistence of PHN. VZV DNA was detected in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of 78% of patients with acute zoster and in 9% of healthy asymptomatic blood donors. The presence of VZV in the PBMCs of patients with acute zoster was independently associated with age and being on antivirals but not with gender, immune status, extent of rash, the age of the rash at the time of blood sampling, having a history of prodromal pain, or the extent of acute pain. Prodromal pain was significantly associated with higher baseline viral loads. Viral load levels were not associated with the development or persistence of PHN at 6, 12, or 26 weeks.

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