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Shingles sends nearly 1 million Americans to the doctor

Nearly 1 million Americans receive medical care for shingles or its complications, according to data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS).

Shingles comes from an infection with varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox, and can result in burning or shooting pain, tingling, or itching.

MEPS data indicate that:

  • Americans make 2.1 million doctor visits a year because of shingles or its complications.
  • The average cost for treating shingles is $525 per person or $566 million each year (in 2005 dollars), including prescription medicines.
  • People age 65 and older are seven times more likely to get shingles than the non-elderly (1.5 percent compared with 0.2 percent, respectively).

For more information, go to Average Annual Health Care Use and Expenses for Shingles among the U.S. Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population, 2003-2005, MEPS Statistical Brief 194 (http://meps.ahrq.gov/mepsweb/data_stats/).

MEPS is a set of large-scale surveys of families and individuals, their medical providers, and employers across the United States. These surveys provide a detailed source of information on the health services used by Americans, the frequency with which they are used, the cost of those services, and how they are paid.

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