Varicella zoster virus vaccines: potential complications and possible improvements
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- Silver, B. & Zhu, H. Virol. Sin. (2014) 29: 265. doi:10.1007/s12250-014-3516-9
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Varicella zoster virus (VZV) is the causative agent of varicella (chicken pox) and herpes zoster (shingles). After primary infection, the virus remains latent in sensory ganglia, and reactivates upon weakening of the cellular immune system due to various conditions, erupting from sensory neurons and infecting the corresponding skin tissue. The current varicella vaccine (v-Oka) is highly attenuated in the skin, yet retains its neurovirulence and may reactivate and damage sensory neurons. The reactivation is sometimes associated with postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a severe pain along the affected sensory nerves that can linger for years, even after the herpetic rash resolves. In addition to the older population that develops a secondary infection resulting in herpes zoster, childhood breakthrough herpes zoster affects a small population of vaccinated children. There is a great need for a neuro-attenuated vaccine that would prevent not only the varicella manifestation, but, more importantly, any establishment of latency, and therefore herpes zoster. The development of a genetically-defined live-attenuated VZV vaccine that prevents neuronal and latent infection, in addition to primary varicella, is imperative for eventual eradication of VZV, and, if fully understood, has vast implications for many related herpesviruses and other viruses with similar pathogenic mechanisms.