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Varicella-zoster virus infections in immunocompromised patients - a single centre 6-years analysis

Verena Wiegering1, Judith Schick1, Meinrad Beer3, Benedikt Weissbrich4, Stefan Gattenlöhner5, Hermann J Girschick2, Johannes Liese2, Paul G Schlegel1 and Matthias Eyrich1*

Author Affiliations

1 Dept. of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Pediatric Stem Cell Transplantation Program, University Children's Hospital Wuerzburg, Germany

2 Dept. of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Immunology and Rheumatology, University Children's Hospital Wuerzburg, Germany

3 Dept. of Pediatric Radiology, University of Wuerzburg, Germany

4 Institute for Virology and Immunbiology, University of Wuerzburg, Germany

5 Dept. of Pathology, University of Wuerzburg, Germany

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BMC Pediatrics 2011, 11:31  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-11-31

Published: 10 May 2011



Infection with varicella-zoster virus (VZV) contemporaneously with malignant disease or immunosuppression represents a particular challenge and requires individualized decisions and treatment. Although the increasing use of varicella-vaccines in the general population and rapid initiation of VZV-immunoglobulins and acyclovir in case of exposure has been beneficial for some patients, immunocompromised individuals are still at risk for unfavourable courses.


In this single center, 6-year analysis we review incidence, hospitalization and complication rates of VZV-infections in our center and compare them to published data. Furthermore, we report three instructive cases.


Hospitalization rate of referred children with VZV-infections was 45%, among these 17% with malignancies and 9% under immunosuppressive therapy. Rate of complications was not elevated in these two high-risk cohorts, but one ALL-patient died due to VZV-related complications. We report one 4-year old boy with initial diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia who showed a rapidly fatal outcome of his simultaneous varicella-infection, one 1.8-year old boy with an identical situation but a mild course of his disease, and an 8.5-year old boy with a steroid-dependent nephrotic syndrome. This boy developed severe hepatic involvement during his varicella-infection but responded to immediate withdrawl of steroids and administration of acyclovir plus single-dose cidofovir after nonresponse to acyclovir after 48 h.


Our data show that patients with malignant diseases or immunosuppressive therapy should be hospitalized and treated immediately with antiviral agents. Despite these measures the course of VZV-infections can be highly variable in these patients. We discuss aids to individual decision-making for these difficult situations.

varicella-zoster virus; immunosuppression; pediatrics; cidofovir