Comparison of the Tzanck test and polymerase chain reaction in the diagnosis of cutaneous herpes simplex and varicella zoster virus infections

Int J Dermatol. 2007 Nov;46(11):1177-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2007.03337.x.


Background: Although the diagnosis of herpes simplex virus (HSV) and varicella zoster virus (VZV) infections is usually made clinically, the Tzanck test, electron microscopy, viral culture, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and serologic tests can be utilized to verify the diagnosis.

Methods: We conducted a study on a total of 98 patients (77 patients with recurrent herpes simplex and 21 patients with herpes zoster) to evaluate the reliability and reproducibility of the Tzanck test in comparison with PCR.

Results: In herpes virus infections, the general positivity rates of the Tzanck test and PCR were 61.2% and 79.6%, respectively. The difference between the positivity rates of the two tests was statistically significant. The positivity rates of the tests differed according to the type and duration of the lesions.

Conclusions: Although PCR was superior to the Tzanck test, the Tzanck test has also been proven to be a reliable diagnostic method, with a sensitivity of 76.9% and a specificity of 100%. We recommend the use of this easy, quick, reproducible, and inexpensive diagnostic test more often in dermatologic practice, especially in cutaneous herpes virus infections.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cytodiagnosis / methods*
  • Female
  • Herpes Simplex / diagnosis*
  • Herpes Simplex / virology
  • Herpes Zoster / diagnosis*
  • Herpes Zoster / virology
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Simplexvirus / isolation & purification