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BMC Infect Dis. 2013 Apr 10;13:170. doi: 10.1186/1471-2334-13-170.

Similar herpes zoster incidence across Europe: results from a systematic literature review.

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Epidemiology Department, Sanofi Pasteur MSD, 8 rue Jonas Salk, Lyon, 69007, France.



Herpes zoster (HZ) is caused by reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) and mainly affects individuals aged ≥50 years. The forthcoming European launch of a vaccine against HZ (Zostavax®) prompts the need for a better understanding of the epidemiology of HZ in Europe. Therefore the aim of this systematic review was to summarize the available data on HZ incidence in Europe and to describe age-specific incidence.


The Medline database of the National Library of Medicine was used to conduct a comprehensive literature search of population-based studies of HZ incidence published between 1960 and 2010 carried out in the 27 member countries of the European Union, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. The identified articles were reviewed and scored according to a reading grid including various quality criteria, and HZ incidence data were extracted and presented by country.


The search identified 21 studies, and revealed a similar annual HZ incidence throughout Europe, varying by country from 2.0 to 4.6/1 000 person-years with no clearly observed geographic trend. Despite the fact that age groups differed from one study to another, age-specific HZ incidence rates seemed to hold steady during the review period, at around 1/1 000 children <10 years, around 2/1 000 adults aged <40 years, and around 1-4/1 000 adults aged 40-50 years. They then increased rapidly after age 50 years to around 7-8/1 000, up to 10/1 000 after 80 years of age. Our review confirms that in Europe HZ incidence increases with age, and quite drastically after 50 years of age. In all of the 21 studies included in the present review, incidence rates were higher among women than men, and this difference increased with age. This review also highlights the need to identify standardized surveillance methods to improve the comparability of data within European Union Member States and to monitor the impact of VZV immunization on the epidemiology of HZ.


Available data in Europe have shortcomings which make an accurate assessment of HZ incidence and change over time impossible. However, data are indicative that HZ incidence is comparable, and increases with age in the same proportion across Europe.

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