Open Access Research article

Varicella and Herpes Zoster in Madrid, based on the Sentinel General Practitioner Network: 1997–2004

Napoleón Pérez-Farinós*, María Ordobás, Cristina García-Fernández, Luis García-Comas, Soledad Cañellas, Inmaculada Rodero, Ángeles Gutiérrez-Rodríguez, Juan García-Gutiérrez and Rosa Ramírez

Author Affiliations

Department of Epidemiology, Madrid Public Health Institute, Julián Camarillo 4B, 28037 Madrid, Spain

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2007, 7:59  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-7-59

Published: 15 June 2007



Varicella (chickenpox) is the primary disease caused by varicella-zoster virus. It is extremely contagious and is frequent in children. Indeed, in the absence of vaccination, a high proportion of the population is liable to contract it. Herpes zoster -more frequent among adults- is caused by reactivation of the latent virus. The objective of this study is to describe the status of and time trend for varicella and herpes zoster in the Madrid Autonomous Region prior to the introduction of the vaccine to the general population.


Data source: individualised varicella and herpes zoster case records kept by the Madrid Autonomous Region Sentinel General Practitioner Network for the period 1997–2004. Cumulative incidences, crude and standardised incidence rates, and age-specific rates of varicella and herpes zoster were calculated for each year. Kendall's Tau-b correlation coefficient was calculated to evaluate whether incidence displayed a time trend. Spectral density in the time series of weekly incidences was estimated using a periodogram.


Standardised annual varicella incidence rates ranged from 742.5 (95% CI: 687.2 – 797.7) to 1239.6 (95% CI: 1164.5 – 1313.4) cases per 100 000 person-years. Most cases affected children, though complications were more frequent in adults. Varicella incidence displayed an annual periodicity but no trend over time. Most herpes zoster cases occurred at advanced ages, with incidence registering a rising annual trend but no seasonality factor.


In the absence of vaccination, no significant changes in varicella incidence were in evidence recent years, though these were observed in the incidence of herpes zoster. Sentinel general practitioner networks are a valid instrument for surveillance of diseases such as varicella. Further varicella vaccination-coverage and vaccine-efficacy studies are called for.