Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is a pathogenic human herpes virus that causes varicella (chickenpox) as a primary infection, following which it becomes latent in peripheral ganglia. Decades later, the virus may reactivate either spontaneously or after a number of triggering factors to cause herpes zoster (shingles). Varicella and its complications are more severe in the immunosuppressed. The most frequent and important complication of VZV reactivation is postherpetic neuralgia, the cause of which is unknown and for which treatment is usually ineffective. Reactivation of VZV may also cause a wide variety of neurological syndromes, the most significant of which is a vasculitis, which is treated with corticosteroids and the antiviral drug acyclovir. Other VZV reactivation complications include an encephalitis, segmental motor weakness and myelopathy, cranial neuropathies, Guillain⁻Barré syndrome, enteric features, and zoster sine herpete, in which the viral reactivation occurs in the absence of the characteristic dermatomally distributed vesicular rash of herpes zoster. There has also been a recent association of VZV with giant cell arteritis and this interesting finding needs further corroboration. Vaccination is now available for the prevention of both varicella in children and herpes zoster in older individuals.
Keywords: VZV; acyclovir; enteric zoster; herpes zoster; infection; neurology; postherpetic neuralgia; valacyclovir; varicella.