The indirect immunofluorescence technique has been used to titrate the specific immunoglobulins in 200 sera from 64 patients with varicella, and 195 sera from 67 patients with herpes zoster. IgG and IgM antibodies were detected in all patients with varicella, and IgA in 59 (92%). All three classes of antibody appeared 2–5 days after the onset of the rash, increased virtually simultaneously and reached maximum titres during the second and third weeks. IgG then declined slowly, but never became undetectable and was still present in five subjects who were retested after 2–4 years; it was present in 88 out of 100 healthy young adults and probably persists indefinitely after varicella. IgA and 1gM antibodies declined more rapidly and were not detected in specimens taken more than a year after the illness. IgA, however, may possibly persist in some cases since low titres were found in 8 out of 88 young adults who possessed IgG antibody and had presumably had varicella in the past. IgA responses were significantly weaker in children under the age of 6 years than in older children and adults.
Six out of 67 patients with zoster were tested at various times before the onset of the rash: IgG antibody was detected in all. IgG was present in all sera taken after the onset of the rash, increased rapidly after 2–5 days, reached maximum titres during the second and third weeks and then declined slowly. IgA antibody was detected in 66 patients (99%) and IgM in 52 (78%); both types of antibody followed transient courses, as in varicella.
Maximum titres of IgG and complement-fixing antibodies were greater after zoster than after varicella, but the differences were not significant. IgA and IgM titres in young adults with zoster were significantly lower than in older patients, and also lower than in young adults with varicella.
Increases in varicella-zoster antibody in patients with herpes simplex virus infections consisted mainly of IgG, sometimes IgA, but never IgM.