Fatal varicella in an immunocompromised adult associated with a European genotype E2 variant of varicella zoster virus

J Clin Virol. 2009 Jan;44(1):70-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jcv.2008.10.004. Epub 2008 Dec 3.


Varicella zoster virus (VZV) seronegative patients under immunosuppressive therapy are at risk for severe life-threatening varicella. A 25-year-old male patient presented with rash and hepatitis. He had been known to suffer from Crohn's disease and received immunosuppressive treatment with azathioprine. The patient showed dyspnoea, and presented with a generalized rash with vesicular lesions typical for herpesvirus infections. He was started immediately on acyclovir therapy. Varicella infection was determined in this VZV seronegative patient in rash vesicles, blood and tracheal secretions and a high VZV viral load was detected in these specimens. The causative agent was genotyped by sequencing of several genes as a variant of the European genotype E2 containing several unique single nucleotide polymorphisms. Despite all measures, there was progressive septic shock, and the patient died due to multi-organ failure. Immunocompromised adults without varicella history are at high risk to develop life-threatening complications of varicella. Antiviral therapy with acyclovir can only be successful when administered as early as possible on suspicion of varicella infection in this group of patients. The most effective method to prevent severe varicella in immunocompromised patients is active immunization prior to immunosuppressive therapy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Azathioprine / adverse effects
  • Azathioprine / therapeutic use
  • Blood / virology
  • Chickenpox / pathology
  • Chickenpox / physiopathology
  • Chickenpox / virology*
  • Crohn Disease / complications
  • Crohn Disease / drug therapy
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Genotype
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / classification*
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / genetics*
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Multiple Organ Failure
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Shock, Septic
  • Trachea / virology


  • DNA, Viral
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Azathioprine