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Post-exposure prophylaxis against varicella-zoster virus infection

Mary A Albrecht, MD
Section Editors
Martin S Hirsch, MD
Morven S Edwards, MD
Deputy Editor
Jennifer Mitty, MD, MPH


Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is one of eight herpesviruses known to cause human infection and is found worldwide. Primary infection with VZV causes chickenpox, with fever and a characteristic vesicular rash. Although varicella is usually a mild, self-limited illness, it can be associated with complications, such as pneumonia, hepatitis, encephalitis, and secondary bacterial infection. Complicated infection can lead to morbidity and mortality, particularly among immunocompromised hosts and pregnant women.

This topic will address the use of active immunization (varicella vaccine) and passive immunization (VariZIG) and other interventions for post-exposure prophylaxis in nonimmune individuals. The efficacy and safety of the varicella vaccine for routine immunization in children and adults are discussed elsewhere. (See "Vaccination for the prevention of chickenpox (primary varicella infection)".)

Post-exposure prophylaxis for neonates, pregnant women, bone marrow transplant recipients, and health care workers is discussed elsewhere. (See "Varicella-zoster infection in the newborn" and "Varicella-zoster virus infection in pregnancy" and "Prevention and control of varicella-zoster virus in hospitals" and "Immunizations in hematopoietic cell transplant candidates and recipients".)

The clinical manifestations and management of varicella are discussed separately. (See "Clinical features of varicella-zoster virus infection: Chickenpox" and "Varicella-zoster infection in the newborn" and "Treatment of varicella (chickenpox) infection".)


VZV infection causes two clinically distinct forms of disease: varicella (chickenpox) and herpes zoster (shingles).

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 08, 2016.
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