Varicella Zoster Virus – Culture

Specimen Collection and Handling

Specimen Requirements

Test Requested Required Requisition(s) Specimen Type Minimum Volume Collection Kit

Lab to complete

Swabs of lesion/vesicular fluid

1 swab collected from “fresh” vesicle

Virus Culture Collection Kit

Submission and Collection Notes


Fluid or scrapings from the base of skin lesions may be submitted dried and unfixed on a glass slide for examination by electron microscopy (EM)

Note: CSF should be tested by molecular methods. Please contact PHOL for information on availability of molecular testing.

Preparation Prior to Transport

Place specimen in biohazard bag and seal. Specimens should be stored at 2-8°C following collection and shipped to PHOL on ice packs.

Special Instructions

Follow the instructions found in the Virus-Culture Kit Instruction Sheet.

Requisitions and Kit Ordering

Test Frequency and Turnaround Time (TAT)

Varicella Zoster virus culture and EM are performed daily Monday to Friday.

Turnaround time for EM is up to 3 days.

Samples tested by shell vial culture are inoculated and incubated for 5 days. Turnaround time for shell vial culture is up to 6 days after receipt.

Samples tested by conventional culture are observed for a minimum of 14 days prior to reporting a negative culture result; samples that are positive can be observed at any point during this period. TAT for virus culture is up to 16 days after receipt.


Results are reported to the ordering physician or health care provider as indicated on the requisition.

Specimens that are positive for Varicella Zoster virus are reported to the Medical Officer of Health as per Health Protection and Promotion Act.

Test Methods

Varicella Zoster specimens are tested by conventional and shell vial culture.

Shell Vial - specimens are inoculated in MRC-5 coated shell vials.  Cultures are stained with monoclonal antibodies after 5 days incubation to check for varicella zoster virus. 

Conventional culture tubes cultures are also inoculated for varicella zoster virus and other viruses. 

Material dried on slides is tested by electron microscopy. 

Contact the EM Laboratory at 416-235-6121 prior to submission of urgent cases.

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Updated 21 Dec 2018