Herpes zoster rates among adults have been slowly rising over time in the United States and other countries. In the United States, herpes zoster rates have increased by 39% from 1992 to 2010 among adults older than 65 years of age.
Scientists have proposed various hypotheses to explain this increase. A common hypothesis is that the increase in herpes zoster is associated with the widespread vaccination of children against varicella. However, a new CDC study that I will discuss today adds to a growing body of evidence that this is unlikely.
Let’s start with some basics. Herpes zoster, also commonly known as zoster or shingles, is a painful skin rash. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which is the same virus that causes varicella disease (chickenpox). After a person recovers from varicella, the virus stays dormant in the sensory ganglia and can reactivate years later, causing zoster.