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Epidemiology of Herpes Zoster Reviewed

Most cases occur in those 50 and older; one in four patients experiences complications

THURSDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Herpes zoster occurs primarily in immunocompetent individuals aged 50 and older, according to a report published in the November issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The researchers also report that herpes zoster complications increase with age and affect one in four patients.

Barbara P. Yawn, M.D., of the Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues used public medical records in Olmsted County, Minn., to identify 1,669 adults with new diagnoses of herpes zoster between 1996 and 2005.

The 1,669 herpes zoster cases presented an incidence rate of 3.4 per 1,000 person-years in Olmsted County adults and 3.6 per 1,000 person-years when adjusted to the U.S. population. Incidence rates increased between 1996 and 2001, culminating in a rate of 4.1 per 1,000 person-years. Mean age at diagnosis in the Olmsted County sample was 59.4 years, with 68 percent of patients aged 50 years or older and 49 percent 60 years or older. More than 90 percent were immunocompetent. Complications increased with age, with one in four patients experiencing some type of herpes zoster complication, the most common of which was postherpetic neuralgia.

"The current U.S. recommendation is to begin administering the zoster vaccine at age 60," the authors note. "However, the largest number of herpes zoster cases occurs each year in people aged 50 to 59 years. This gap in prevention coverage needs further consideration."

This study was funded by the Merck Research Laboratories, and two of its authors are employees of Merck.

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