Herpes Zoster Rates on the Rise

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.

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