Open Access Research article

The epidemiology of Varicella Zoster Virus infection in Italy

Giovanni Gabutti1*, Maria C Rota2, Marcello Guido3, Antonella De Donno3, Antonino Bella2, Marta L Ciofi degli Atti2, Pietro Crovari4 and the Seroepidemiology Group

Author Affiliations

1 Dept. of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Section of Hygiene and Occupational Health, University of Ferrara, Ferrara, Italy

2 National Center of Epidemiology, Surveillance and Health Promotion, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy

3 Dept. of Biological and Environmental Sciences and Technologies, Lab of Hygiene, University of Salento, Lecce, Italy

4 Dept of Health Sciences, Section of Hygiene and Preventive Medicine, University of Genoa, Genoa, Italy

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2008, 8:372  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-372

Published: 27 October 2008



The epidemiological importance of varicella and zoster and the availability of an efficacious and safe vaccine have led to an important international debate regarding the suitability of mass vaccination. The objective of the study was to describe the epidemiology of varicella and zoster in Italy and to determine whether there have been changes with respect to observations provided by an analogous study conducted 8 years ago, in order to define the most appropriate vaccination strategy.


A number of data sources were evaluated, a cross-sectional population-based seroprevalence study was conducted on samples collected in 2004, and the results were compared with data obtained in 1996.


The data from active and passive surveillance systems confirm that varicella is a widespread infectious disease which mainly affects children. VZV seroprevalence did not substantially differ from that found in the previous study. The sero-epidemiological profile in Italy is different from that in other European countries. In particular, the percentage of susceptible adolescents is at least nearly twice as high as in other European countries and in the age group 20–39 yrs, approximately 9% of individuals are susceptible to VZV.


The results of this study can contribute to evaluating the options for varicella vaccination. It is possible that in a few years, in all Italian Regions, there will exist the conditions necessary for implementing a mass vaccination campaign and that the large-scale availability of MMRV tetravalent vaccines will facilitate mass vaccination.