Varicella Zoster Virus: A Common Cause of Stroke in Children and Adults

J Stroke Cerebrovasc Dis. 2016 Jul;25(7):1561-1569. doi: 10.1016/j.jstrokecerebrovasdis.2016.03.052. Epub 2016 Apr 29.


Background: Varicella zoster virus (VZV) is a neurotropic, exclusively human herpesvirus. Primary infection causes varicella (chickenpox), after which the virus becomes latent in ganglionic neurons along the entire neuraxis. As cell-mediated immunity to VZV declines with advancing age and immunosuppression, VZV reactivates to produce zoster (shingles). One of the most serious complications of zoster is VZV vasculopathy.

Methods: We reviewed recent studies of stroke associated with varicella and zoster, how VZV vasculopathy is verified virologically, vaccination to prevent varicella and immunization to prevent zoster, and VZV in giant cell arteritis (GCA).

Findings: We report recent epidemiological studies revealing an increased risk of stroke after zoster; the clinical, laboratory, and imaging features of VZV vasculopathy; that VZV vasculopathy is confirmed by the presence of either VZV DNA or anti-VZV IgG antibody in cerebrospinal fluid; special features of VZV vasculopathy in children; vaccination to prevent varicella and immunization to prevent zoster; and the latest evidence linking VZV to GCA.

Conclusion: In children and adults, VZV is a common cause of stroke.

Keywords: VZV; giant cell arteritis; stroke; vasculopathy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chickenpox / epidemiology
  • Chickenpox / immunology
  • Chickenpox / prevention & control
  • Chickenpox / virology*
  • Chickenpox Vaccine / administration & dosage
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / epidemiology
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / immunology
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / prevention & control
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / virology*
  • Herpes Zoster / epidemiology
  • Herpes Zoster / immunology
  • Herpes Zoster / prevention & control
  • Herpes Zoster / virology*
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 3, Human / pathogenicity*
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Stroke / epidemiology
  • Stroke / immunology
  • Stroke / prevention & control
  • Stroke / virology*
  • Vaccination


  • Chickenpox Vaccine