Looking back to move forward: A twenty-year audit of herpes zoster in Asia-Pacific

Liang Kung Chen*, Hidenori Arai, Liang Yu Chen, Ming Yueh Chou, Samsuridjal Djauzi, Birong Dong, Taro Kojima, Ki Tae Kwon, Hoe Nam Leong, Edward M.F. Leung, Chih Kuang Liang, Xiaohong Liu, Dilip Mathai, Jiun Yit Pan, Li Ning Peng, Eduardo Rommel S. Poblete, Philip J.H. Poi, Stewart Reid, Terapong Tantawichien, Chang Won Won

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Background: Herpes zoster (HZ) is a prevalent viral disease that inflicts substantial morbidity and associated healthcare and socioeconomic burdens. Current treatments are not fully effective, especially among the most vulnerable patients. Although widely recommended, vaccination against HZ is not routine; barriers in Asia-Pacific include long-standing neglect of adult immunisation and sparse local data. To address knowledge gaps, raise awareness, and disseminate best practice, we reviewed recent data and guidelines on HZ from the Asia-Pacific region. Methods: We searched PubMed, Scopus, and World Health Organization databases for articles about HZ published from 1994 to 2014 by authors from Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. We selected articles about epidemiology, burden, complications, comorbidities, management, prevention, and recommendations/guidelines. Internet searches retrieved additional HZ immunisation guidelines. Results: From 4007 retrieved articles, we screened-out 1501 duplicates and excluded 1264 extraneous articles, leaving 1242 unique articles. We found guidelines on adult immunisation from Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand. HZ epidemiology in Asia-Pacific is similar to elsewhere; incidence rises with age and peaks at around 70 years - lifetime risk is approximately one-third. Average incidence of 3-10/1000 person-years is rising at around 5% per year. The principal risk factors are immunosenescence and immunosuppression. HZ almost always causes pain, and post-herpetic neuralgia is its most common complication. Half or more of hospitalised HZ patients have post-herpetic neuralgia, secondary infections, or inflammatory sequelae that are occasionally fatal. These disease burdens severely diminish patients' quality of life and incur heavy healthcare utilisation. Conclusions: Several countries have abundant data on HZ, but others, especially in South-East Asia, very few. However, Asia-Pacific countries generally lack data on HZ vaccine safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Physicians treating HZ and its complications in Asia-Pacific face familiar challenges but, with a vast aged population, Asia bears a unique and growing burden of disease. Given the strong rationale for prevention, most adult immunisation guidelines include HZ vaccine, yet it remains underused. We urge all stakeholders to give higher priority to adult immunisation in general and HZ in particular.

Original languageEnglish
Article number213
JournalBMC Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2017


  • Asia-Pacific
  • Complications
  • Epidemiology
  • Healthcare burden
  • Herpes zoster
  • Immunisation
  • Management
  • Post-herpetic neuralgia
  • Prevention
  • Vaccine


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