Herpes zoster in older adults

Clin Infect Dis. 2001 May 15;32(10):1481-6. doi: 10.1086/320169. Epub 2001 Apr 17.


Herpes zoster (HZ) strikes millions of older adults annually worldwide and disables a substantial number of them via postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Key age-related clinical, epidemiological, and treatment features of zoster and PHN are reviewed. HZ is caused by renewed replication and spread of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) in sensory ganglia and afferent peripheral nerves in the setting of age-related, disease-related, and drug-related decline in cellular immunity to VZV. VZV-induced neuronal destruction and inflammation causes the principal problems of pain, interference with activities of daily living, and reduced quality of life in elderly patients. Recently, attempts to reduce or eliminate HZ pain have been bolstered by the findings of clinical trials that antiviral agents and corticosteroids are effective treatment for HZ and that tricyclic antidepressants, topical lidocaine, gabapentin, and opiates are effective treatment for PHN. Although these advances have helped, PHN remains a difficult condition to prevent and treat in many elderly patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging* / immunology
  • Child
  • Herpes Zoster* / diagnosis
  • Herpes Zoster* / drug therapy
  • Herpes Zoster* / epidemiology
  • Herpes Zoster* / prevention & control
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuralgia / drug therapy
  • Neuralgia / virology