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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Disease burden of herpes zoster in Sweden - predominance in the elderly and in women - a register based study

Marie Studahl1*, Max Petzold2 and Tobias Cassel3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Infectious Diseases, The Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Diagnosvägen 21, S- 416 85 Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Department of Medicine, The Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Medicinaregatan 19 D, S-413 90 Gothenburg, Sweden

3 Sanofi Pasteur MSD, Hemvärnsgatan 13, S- 171 54 Solna, Sweden

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:586  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-586

Published: 12 December 2013



The herpes zoster burden of disease in Sweden is not well investigated. There is no Swedish immunization program to prevent varicella zoster virus infections. A vaccine against herpes zoster and its complications is now available. The aim of this study was to estimate the herpes zoster burden of disease and to establish a pre-vaccination baseline of the minimum incidence of herpes zoster.


Data were collected from the Swedish National Health Data Registers including the Patient Register, the Pharmacy Register, and the Cause of Death Register. The herpes zoster burden of disease in Sweden was estimated by analyzing the overall, and age and gender differences in the antiviral prescriptions, hospitalizations and complications during 2006-2010 and mortality during 2006-2009.


Annually, 270 per 100,000 persons received antiviral treatment for herpes zoster, and the prescription rate increased with age. It was approximately 50% higher in females than in males in the age 50+ population (rate ratio 1.39; 95% CI, 1.22 to 1.58). The overall hospitalization rate for herpes zoster was 6.9/100,000 with an approximately three-fold increase for patients over 80 years of age compared to the age 70-79 group. A gender difference in hospitalization rates was observed: 8.1/100,000 in females and 5.6/100,000 in males. Herpes zoster, with a registered complication, was found in about one third of the hospitalized patients and the most common complications involved the peripheral and central nervous systems. Death due to herpes zoster was a rare event.


The results of this study demonstrate the significant burden of herpes zoster disease in the pre-zoster vaccination era. A strong correlation with age in the herpes zoster- related incidence, hospitalization, complications, and mortality rates was found. In addition, the study provides further evidence of the female predominance in herpes zoster disease.

Herpes zoster; Hospitalization; Antiviral prescriptions; Mortality; Disease burden