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Varicella-zoster infection in the newborn

Michael E Speer, MD
Section Editors
Leonard E Weisman, MD
Morven S Edwards, MD
Deputy Editor
Carrie Armsby, MD, MPH


Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is the virus responsible for varicella (chickenpox) and herpes zoster ("shingles"). VZV is a member of the herpesvirus family, along with herpes simplex virus (HSV) types 1 and 2, cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and human herpesvirus (HHV) -6, -7, and -8.

Varicella usually is a mild, self-limited illness in healthy children. Rarely, varicella affects the pregnant or postpartum woman, causing problems for the fetus or newborn. Nosocomial acquisition of VZV also can occur in newborns.

Varicella-zoster infection in the newborn is reviewed her. Chickenpox and VZV infection in pregnancy are reviewed separately. (See "Clinical features of varicella-zoster virus infection: Chickenpox" and "Varicella-zoster virus infection in pregnancy".)


Congenital varicella syndrome — Most cases of congenital varicella syndrome occur in infants whose mothers were infected between 8 and 20 weeks gestation. However, the overall risk of infection is quite small compared with numerous other viruses acquired during pregnancy. The risk appears to be approximately 2 percent if the infection occurs before 20 weeks and less than 1 percent if it occurs before 13 weeks [1,2]. Intrauterine growth restriction commonly occurs. (See "Varicella-zoster virus infection in pregnancy".)

Characteristic findings of affected infants include some or all of the following in order of the frequency of occurrence [3]:

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 28, 2017.
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