OBJECTIVE: To establish accurate, up-to-date, baseline epidemiological data for herpes zoster (HZ) before the introduction of the recently licensed HZ vaccine. METHODS: Using data from January 1, 1996, to October 15, 2005, we conducted a population-based study of adult residents (≥22 years) of Olmsted County, MN, to determine (by medical record review) the incidence of HZ and the rate of HZ-related complications. Incidence rates were determined by age and sex and adjusted to the US population. RESULTS: A total of 1669 adult residents with a confirmed diagnosis of HZ were identified between January 1, 1996, and December 31, 2001. Most (92%) of these patients were immunocompetent and 60% were women. When adjusted to the US adult population, the incidence of HZ was 3.6 per 1000 person-years (95% confidence interval, 3.4-3.7), with a temporal increase from 3.2 to 4.1 per 1000 person-years from 1996 to 2001. The incidence of HZ and the rate of HZ-associated complications increased with age, with 68% of cases occurring in those aged 50 years and older. Postherpetic neuralgia occurred in 18% of adult patients with HZ and in 33% of those aged 79 years and older. Overall, 10% of all patients with HZ experienced 1 or more nonpain complications. CONCLUSIONS: Our population-based data suggest that HZ primarily affects immunocompetent adults older than 50 years; 1 in 4 experiences some type of HZ-related complication.
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