Purpose of review Varicella-zoster
virus (VZV) remains a public health issue around the globe despite the availability of a live attenuated vaccine
and several highly active antiviral agents. A program of universal infant vaccination against varicella was introduced in the US almost 10 years ago. Epidemiological data continue to accumulate that will inform decision-making on vaccine
use elsewhere. These findings, together with relevant advances in VZV virology, form the substance of this review.
Understanding of the pathogenesis of varicella has significantly advanced with the demonstration that the cation-independent mannose 6-phosphate receptor
is critical to both entry and egress of enveloped VZV. While our knowledge of intervening events remains sketchy, the future study of VZV will be facilitated by the recent successful cloning of the VZV genome into a bacterial artificial chromosome. Models of latency and reactivation are also being developed, which may help us to understand the epidemiology of herpes zoster in vaccinated populations. Continued evidence of decline in the incidence of varicella, associated hospitalizations and deaths suggests that the vaccine
as used in the US is highly effective. However, rates of breakthrough disease are significant and sufficient to sustain outbreaks, even among highly vaccinated populations. This is so despite the generally reduced infectiousness of varicella occurring in vaccinated individuals. There is some evidence of attrition of the immune response over time following immunization in a small proportion of vaccinees.
Our ability to prevent and treat varicella still outstrips our knowledge of pathogenetic and immune mechanisms. Further clinical advances are likely to arise from growing understanding of VZV biology.