Varicella-zoster virus post-exposure management and prophylaxis: A review

Prev Med Rep. 2019 Nov 6;16:101016. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2019.101016. eCollection 2019 Dec.


Varicella-zoster virus causes both varicella (chickenpox) and herpes zoster (shingles). Although varicella incidence has dramatically declined since introduction of the live-attenuated varicella vaccine, vaccination rates are suboptimal, and outbreaks still occur. Additionally, herpes zoster incidence continues to rise. Severe or fatal complications may result from varicella transmission to at-risk individuals who are exposed to either varicella or herpes zoster. An increasing number of children and adults are receiving immunosuppressive therapies and are at high risk for severe varicella and other complications if exposed to the virus. Clinical management of individuals exposed to varicella-zoster virus should take into consideration the type of exposure, evidence of immunity, and host-immune status with regard to ability to receive varicella vaccination safely. Post-exposure varicella vaccination may prevent infection or mitigate disease severity in persons eligible for vaccination. Post-exposure prophylaxis with varicella zoster immune globulin is indicated for populations ineligible for vaccination, including immunocompromised children and adults, pregnant women, newborns of mothers with varicella shortly before or after delivery, and premature infants. Appropriate post-exposure management of individuals exposed to either varicella or herpes zoster-including assessment of immune status and rapid provision of optimal prophylaxis-can help avoid potentially devastating complications of varicella-zoster virus infection.

Keywords: Herpes zoster; Immunocompromised; Post-exposure prophylaxis; VARIZIG; Vaccination; Varicella; Varicella zoster immune globulin; Varicella-zoster virus.

Publication types

  • Review