Placental transfer and decay of varicella-zoster virus antibodies in preterm infants

Nehama Linder, Ilana Waintraub, Zehava Smetana, Asher Barzilai, Daniel Lubin, Ella Mendelson, Lea Sirota

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: To compare the placental transfer of maternal varicella- zoster (VZV) antibodies to preterm and term infants and to investigate antibody decay during the first 6 months of life in the preterm infants. Study design: Maternal and umbilical cord blood samples were taken from 113 healthy mother-newborn pairs: 64 term (gestational age ≥37 weeks) and 49 preterm (gestational age ≤35 weeks). Premature infants were further tested at 1, 2, and 6 months. Anti-VZV antibody to membrane antigen was measured with the immunofluorescent technique. Results: Preterm infants of gestational age ≤28 weeks had positive cord antibody and a geometric mean titer significantly lower than those in preterm infants of gestational age 29 to 35 weeks and term infants (25% vs 95% and 95%, respectively, P <. 001 for each, and 2.5 ± 2.2 vs 10.5 ± 2.4 and 12.6 ± 2.4, respectively, P <. 001 for each). There was no difference between the preterm 29 to 35 weeks of gestation and term groups. Fetal-maternal ratios for both preterm groups were < 1 and were significantly less than the fetal-maternal ratio in the term infants. The transfer of maternal antibodies to term infants was significantly greater than to the 29- to 35-week preterm infants (P =. 01). At 2 months of age, 25% of 29- to 35-week preterm infants and no preterm infant ≤28 weeks had a positive titer. At 6 months of age, all preterm infants were seronegative, and the geometric mean titer in both groups declined to undetectable levels. Conclusion: Transplacental transfer of maternal VZV antibodies is diminished in preterm infants. VZV antibody levels are significantly lower in preterm infants born at ≤28 weeks' gestational age compared with those in preterm infants 29 to 35 weeks' gestational age and term infants. Anti-VZV titers decrease to undetectable levels in preterm infants by 6 months of age or earlier; thus these infants appear to be susceptible to chickenpox before the scheduled 12-month vaccination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-89
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Pediatrics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2000


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