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Middle East African Journal of Ophthalmology Middle East African Journal of Ophthalmology
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Year : 2011  |  Volume : 18  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 178-182  

Herpes zoster ophthalmicus: Disease spectrum in young adults

Cornea and Refractive Surgery Services, Dr. Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India

Date of Web Publication10-May-2011

Correspondence Address:
Rajesh Sinha
Cornea and Refractive Surgery Services, Dr. Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi - 110 029
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0974-9233.80710

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Purpose : To establish the clinical profile of herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO) in adults younger than 40 years and correlate the clinical manifestation with their immune status.
Materials and Methods : A retrospective chart review was performed of patients younger than 40 years who presented with HZO. Data were collected on demographics, medical history, clinical presentation, results of serological investigations, and visual outcome.
Results : The study cohort comprised 18 subjects with a mean age of 29.7 ΁ 6.2 years. Ophthalmic features included lid edema, ptosis, cicatricial lid deformities, sclerokeratitis, peripheral ulcerative keratitis, neuroparalytic keratitis, keratouveitis with concomitant glaucoma, secondary bacterial keratitis and superficial punctate keratitis with dry eye, optic neuritis, and trochlear nerve palsy. Eight of 18 (44.4%) subjects were found to be positive for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Disseminated herpetic lesions were seen present in 5 (63%) of these 8 subjects. Postherpetic neuralgia was noted in 6 (75%) of 8 HIV-positive subjects and in 1 HIV-negative patient. Final visual acuity was 20/40 or better in 90% of the immunocompetent subjects and 20/200 or worse in 100% of the HIV-positive subjects.
Conclusions : Immunocompetent young adults do present with features of HZO. However, the disease spectrum in HIV-negative patients is localized, less severe, and more amenable to therapy as compared with young adults with HIV.

Keywords: Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus, Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection, Immune Status, Young Adults

How to cite this article:
Gupta N, Sachdev R, Sinha R, Titiyal JS, Tandon R. Herpes zoster ophthalmicus: Disease spectrum in young adults. Middle East Afr J Ophthalmol 2011;18:178-82

How to cite this URL:
Gupta N, Sachdev R, Sinha R, Titiyal JS, Tandon R. Herpes zoster ophthalmicus: Disease spectrum in young adults. Middle East Afr J Ophthalmol [serial online] 2011 [cited 2021 Oct 21];18:178-82. Available from: http://www.meajo.org/text.asp?2011/18/2/178/80710

   Introduction Top

Herpes zoster is characterized by reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus lying dormant in the spinal or cerebral sensory ganglia and is commonly seen in patients with depressed cellular immunity, such as the elderly, patients on immunosuppressive therapy, and patients with lymphoma or positive HIV status. [1],[2] The incidence and severity of herpes zoster increases with advancing age, especially after the seventh decade. [3]

With the emergence of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) pandemic, adults younger than 40 years are increasingly presenting with herpes zoster due to HIV. [4] The relative risk of herpes zoster is at least 15 times greater in men with HIV than in men without HIV. [5] The present study was undertaken to highlight the clinical profile of herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO) in young adults and evaluate differences between the presentation and final outcome in patients who were HIV seropositive and those who were immunocompetent.

   Material and Methods Top

A retrospective analysis of available records of young adults (<40 years old) with HZO was performed. Clinical features, results of blood laboratory workup, and treatment prescribed were noted. Repeat serological investigations were ordered, as appropriate, in patients who remained in follow-up.

   Results Top

The clinical data of 18 young adults presenting with features of HZO were evaluated. The average age of the cohort was 30 years (range, 21-39 years). There was a predominance of males (72%) among the young adults presenting with HZO [Table 1]. A positive history of varicella in childhood (less than 10 years old) was present in 5 (28%) of the 18 subjects. None of the subjects in our study had a history of varicella vaccination. The median duration of follow-up was 10 months (range, 5-27 months).
Table 1: Demographic profile and systemic evaluation of young patients with herpes zoster ophthalmicus

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The clinical features and characteristics of rashes are summarized in [Table 2]. All subjects presented with skin lesions consistent with zoster involving the ophthalmic division of the trigeminal nerve on the affected side (left side affected in 61% subjects) of the face and head. It was limited to the ophthalmic division in 13 (72%) of 18 subjects. We noted disseminated zoster lesions involving the cervical and thoracic dermatomes in 5 (63%) of the 8 HIV-positive cases and in none of the HIV-negative cases.
Table 2: Characteristics of the rash at presentation and chronic sequelae in relation to the immune status of patients with herpes zoster ophthalmicus

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Serological tests had confirmed 8 (44%) of the 18 subjects were HIV positive. None of them had previously been diagnosed with HIV infection. Serological testing for HIV was repeated in 4 previously negative subjects after 6-9 months of the first test. The repeat test was negative in the 4 subjects. Serological tests for syphilis (VDRL) were positive in 2 subjects. Chest X-ray findings and tuberculin skin test were confirmatory for tuberculosis in another 2 subjects. Results of other systemic investigations including the complete hemogram with peripheral smear, blood sugar profile, and serological tests for Hepatitis B and C were negative for the entire cohort. Concomitant systemic diseases were present in 5 subjects: tuberculosis (2 subjects); syphilis (2 subjects); and vaginal candidiasis (1 subject); all of whom were serologically positive for HIV. There was no evidence of co-existing systemic disease in the HIV-negative group.

Ocular features of the young subjects are detailed in [Table 3]. Visual acuity was impaired in all subjects at presentation, the impairment ranging from 20/40 to 20/1200. The majority of the subjects who were HIV positive (88%) had visual acuity of 20/200 or worse at the initial visit and 60% of the immunocompetent subjects with HZO had visual acuity of 20/80 or better at presentation. Conjunctival hyperemia and lid edema ranging from mild to severe was observed in all subjects in the acute phase. Corneal involvement was seen in 15 (89%) of the 18 subjects in the form of dendritic keratitis (28%), punctate keratopathy (28%), stromal keratitis (22%), and peripheral ulcerative keratitis (6%). Corneal sensitivity was abnormal in 78% of cases. Nine subjects (50%) presented with uveal inflammation, which was accompanied with secondary glaucoma in 5 subjects (28%). Posterior segment evaluation revealed cytomegalovirus retinitis in 2 HIV-positive subjects and optic neuritis in 2 HIV-negative subjects. Ocular motility was altered in 2 HIV-negative subjects who presented with fourth nerve palsy.
Table 3: Ocular features at presentation and final visual acuity in young adults herpes zoster ophthalmicus

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Young adults with no evidence of HIV infection presented with a localized, less severe form of the disease, which were more responsive to therapy. In this series of subjects, manifest corneal and uveal inflammation developed in majority (89%) of the affected eyes, but resolved completely with prompt medical management. None of the immunocompetent subjects developed persistent bullous keratopathy or refractory corneal ulceration or perforation. The final visual acuity in immunocompetent subjects was 20/40 or better in 9 (90%) subjects. Nebulomacular corneal opacities were seen in 5 immunocompetent (50%) subjects. Complete resolution of optic neuritis and fourth nerve palsy was seen at the final visit in the 3 HIV-negative cases.

In the HIV-positive group, the final visual acuity was 20/200 or worse in all subjects. The hypesthetic and dry corneal surface led to secondary bacterial keratitis in 2 of the 8 HIV-positive subjects (25%), contributing to poorer visual outcome in this group. Staphylococcus aureus was isolated from the smears collected from the first case and coagulase-negative Staphylococcus was implicated in the second case. Chronic sequelae in the form of cicatricial lid deformities, entropion, ectropion, and acquired lid coloboma with focal loss of cilia, eyelid scars were exclusively present in HIV-positive subjects (75%). Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) was noted in 6 (75%) of the 8 HIV-positive subjects and in 1 (10%) of the 10 HIV-negative subjects.

All the subjects with active herpes zoster ophthalmicus, both HIV negative and HIV positive were prescribed oral acyclovir 800 mg 5 times a day for 2 weeks.

   Discussion Top

Herpes zoster is uncommon in adults younger than 40 years and the peak incidence occurs in the fifth to the seventh decade of life. The annual incidence of herpes zoster in adults 20-40 years old, is 1.2 per 1000 person years compared with 9.4 per 1000 person-years in adults above 80 years of age in the United States. [6] Similarly, the incidence of herpes zoster in the European primary care population was the lowest in young adults (1.9/1000 person-years in <44 years old). [7] The disease spectrum and clinical features in adults younger than 40 years has not been extensively described. Our study highlights the clinical and demographic profile of HZO in this age group and also aims to correlate the clinical manifestations and final outcome with the immune status.

Clinically, many believe that the occurrence of HZO at such a young age is associated with an underlying HIV infection. [8] The normal spectrum of HZO in immunocompetent individuals has been described by Zaal et al.,[9] where 23 patients were younger than 50 years of age and 50 patients were older than 50 years. In Zaal et al.,[9] prospective study, the immunocompetent young adults (<50 years) formed 31% of the study group, but their unique clinical features and disease spectrum were not highlighted. HZO has also been reported in immunocompetent, healthy children with a favorable outcome. [10] In our study, 56% of the cases had no clinical evidence of immunosuppression.

On comparing the clinical features and final outcome in these patients in relation to their HIV-seropositive status, several interesting findings emerged. Systemic disease was present in 63% of the patients with HIV-positive status. This is consistent with previous reports of HIV-positive patients who had evidence of concomitant tuberculosis [11] and syphilis. [4] None of the immunocompetent patients had evidence of coexisting systemic disease. Patients afflicted with HIV were at an increased risk of developing disseminated cutaneous lesions with a more exuberant cicatrisation response, manifesting as entropion and ectropion of the eyelids. The chronic course of the disease in the HIV-positive patients was noted to be more commonly complicated with secondary bacterial keratitis, poor visual outcome, and PHN.

Young adults who were apparently immunocompetent presented with a localized, less severe form of the disease with better response to medical therapy. The main cause of moderate to severe visual loss at presentation in the young, immunocompetent patients was optic neuritis, but it was reversible with an early course of pulse intravenous steroids and aggressive antiviral therapy. Some degree of reduced corneal sensitivity was present in the majority (70%) of the immunocompetent patients without any associated long-term morbidity.

Upper eyelid scarring has been reported to be a rare manifestation in zoster patients. [12] The cicatrisation response in the herpetic vesicles was more severe in the HIV-positive group. None of the immunocompetent cases developed similar cicatricial sequelae involving the lids.

Post zoster, the corneal sensation was diminished in 88% of the HIV-positive subjects. This hypesthetic corneal surface, often with an impaired tear secretion, predisposes the cornea to secondary infections. The impaired immunity in cases with HIV further compounds this risk. Similar results of poor visual recovery due to microbial keratitis in HIV-positive patients has been reported. [13] There was no superimposed bacterial infection in the apparently immunocompetent group despite the diminution of corneal sensations in 70% of these subjects.

The greater severity and prolonged course of HZO, together with superimposed bacterial infection accounted for a poorer visual outcome in the HIV-positive group, and the final visual acuity was poorer than 20/200 in all cases. In contrast, the lesions in the immunocompetent individuals subsided earlier, with a favorable visual outcome (>20/40 in 9 of the 10 subjects).

The incidence of PHN (44%) in our study was quite high as compared with reports in literature. [8] PHN was reported more commonly in the HIV-positive group in our study, which is similar to some African studies on HIV-related HZO. [4] The risk of PHN increases with increasing age and severity of the rash [14] and has been reported to be uncommon in young zoster patients. A study from Iceland [15] demonstrated variations in risk of developing PHN with different age groups and patients younger than 50 years never developed severe pain at any time. This is in contrast to our study where 75% of the young HIV-afflicted individuals described features suggestive of PHN; 3 months after the rash had subsided.

Our study outlines the spectrum of herpes zoster ophthalmicus in young adults. Prompt diagnosis and early intervention is effective in healthy patients.

However, HZO in young adults may be a harbinger of underlying immunodeficiency with a significant impact on the clinical presentation and final visual outcome.

   References Top

1.Miller AE. Selective decline in cellular immune response to varicella-zoster in the elderly. Neurology 1980;30:582-7.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Kestelyn P, Stevens AM, Bakkers E, Rouvroy D, Van de Perre P. Severe herpes zoster ophthalmicus in young African adults: A marker for HTLV- III seropositivity. Br J Ophthalmol 1987;71:806-9.   Back to cited text no. 2
3.Cooper M. The epidemiology of herpes zoster. Eye 1987;1:413-21.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Bayu S, Alemayehu W. Clinical profile of herpes zoster ophthalmicus in Ethiopians. Clin Infect Dis 1997;24:1256-60.   Back to cited text no. 4
5.Buchbinder SP, Katz MH, Hessol NA, Liu JY, O'Malley PM, Underwood R, et al. Herpes zoster and human immunodeficiency virus infection. J Infect Dis 1992;166:1153-6.   Back to cited text no. 5
6.Insinga RP, Itzler RF, Pellissier JM, Saddier P, Nikas AA. The Incidence of herpes zoster in a United States administrative database. J Gen Intern Med 2005;20:748-53.   Back to cited text no. 6
7.Opstelten W, Mauritz JW, de Wit NJ, van Wijck AJ, Stalman WA, van Essen GA. Herpes zoster and postherpetic neuralgia: Incidence and risk indicators using a general practice research database. Fam Pract 2002;19:471-5.   Back to cited text no. 7
8.Hodge WG, Seiff SR, Margolis TP. Ocular opportunistic infection incidences among patients who are HIV positive compared to patients who are HIV negative. Ophthalmology 1998;105:895-900.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Zaal MJ, Volker-Dieben HJ, D'Amaro J. Visual prognosis in immunocompetent patients with herpes zoster ophthalmicus. Acta Ophthalmol Scand 2003;81:216-20.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.De Freitas D, Martins EN, Adan C, Alvarenga LS, Pavan-Langston D. Herpes zoster ophthalmicus in otherwise healthy children. Am J Ophthalmol 2006;142:393-9.   Back to cited text no. 10
11.Umeh RE. Herpes zoster ophthalmicus and HIV infection in Nigeria. Int J STD AIDS 1998;9:476-9.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Sanghvi CA, Leatherbarrow B, Ataullah S. Cicatricial ectropion due to herpes zoster ophthalmicus. J Postgrad Med 2006;52:153-4.  Back to cited text no. 12
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13.Hemady RK, Griffin N, Aristimuno B. Recurrent corneal infections in a patient with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Cornea 1993;12:266-9.   Back to cited text no. 13
14.Nagasako EM, Johnson RW, Griffin DR, Dworkin RH. Rash severity in herpes zoster: Correlates and relationship to postherpetic neuralgia. J Am Acad Dermatol 2002;46:834-9.  Back to cited text no. 14
15.Helgason S, Petursson G, Gudmundsson S, Sigerddson JA. Prevalence of postherpetic neuralgia after a first episode of herpes zoster: prospective study with long term follow up. BMJ 2000;321:794-6.  Back to cited text no. 15


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]

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